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School of Law

Department of Law Staff Seminars 2020-21: Pacing scholarly lives at the Law School Café

  • Co-convenors: Lizzie Barmes and Ruth Fletcher
  • (Normally) Wednesdays 12:30-2pm on Zoom

In A Moment’s Notice Greenhouse talks about how the keeper of the hourglass in an Italian 18th century courtroom ‘makes time stop’ and stewards the amalgamation of ‘ritual and the everyday, the bureaucracy of the court and the untidy emergencies of probate’ (1996, 19).  With ‘Pacing’ we would like to use our lunchtime hourandahalfglass to have a go at making time move a bit differently in another kind of building, that of an online law school café.  How might we use this time together to think ourselves through the different paces of university rituals and everydays? How do we best live through this new online bureaucracy in the midst of a public health, and education, emergency? Our hope is that this conversation picks up on some of the exchanges we had over the summer – making online spaces for research chats, collaboration, slow scholarship, decolonising and anti-racist practices – and makes time for thinking holistically, theoretically, methodologically and substantively about researchers and research activities.

Term 1

23 September 2020 - Checking in

We begin with an open – unprogrammed - gathering at our online café where people are welcome to drop by. It’s a bring-your-own-lunch café. We know your time is precious. So please don’t feel any expectation to drop in, and also feel free to drop in for as little or as long as suits you. Everyone who participates in the scholarly life of the Law School, whether as administrator or academic, PhD student, teaching associate or Professor, is most welcome to this and all our gatherings. Ruth will be there and Lizzie for as long as possible (as a there is a returners welcome event that day).

30 September 2020 – Where are we now? Scholarly teachers moving online

As we get ourselves oriented for the year to come, questions about moving online are preoccupying us all in different ways. We would like to hear from colleagues about their experiences of putting their syllabi and teaching plans together for this pandemic year. How has your research and scholarship helped you in this, or has it got in the way? What will you never do again? What are you tempted to repeat? We welcome contributions about research-based teaching, making the most of online provision, survival strategies, and epistemological experiments, failures and routines.

Contributors to include: Lizzie Barmes, Amber Marks, Violeta Moreno-Lax.

14 October 2020 – How can we become an anti-racist law school?

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement a law department curriculum review working group has been set up (its members are listed below). The first meeting was held on September 30th at which the group discussed its remit and aims.

The group talked about whether the focus should be on decolonisation, anti-racism, or both (and more), and how wide or narrow the scope of the group’s work should be. It was agreed that an exclusive focus on the curriculum was too narrow and that we needed to be talking about our pedagogy and also the relationship of the law school as a whole to the material conditions of racialisation in wider society. It was agreed that the group’s main purpose was not to come up with a programme or proposals but to facilitate discussion, to listen to student and staff experiences and to share knowledge about what colleagues are already doing - and want to do - in response to the BLM movement and race issues more generally. The group felt that the question ‘How can we become an anti-racist law school?’ best reflected the working group’s aims and purpose.

With this approach in mind this seminar will be loosely structured around the following three questions:

  • What are colleagues doing already?
  • What would they like to do?
  • What concerns do they have about doing this?

We’re delighted that we’ll be joined in the seminar by Dr Suhraiya Jivraj from Kent Law school.

Suhraiya has a research expertise in the area of decolonisation and has recently led an SLSA funded project in this area which resulted in an excellent resource on how to develop anti-racist pedagogy in law schools.

Suhraiya will say something about the project to start the discussion.

Do please take a quick look at the resource before the seminar.

Curriculum review working group members: Anjana Bahl, Tanzil Chowdhury, Sanmeet Dua, Ruth Fletcher, Jonathan Griffiths, Ratna Kapur, Kate Malleson, Isobel Roele, Hedi Viterbo

21 October 2020 - Technological development and changing research methodologies, possibilities and agendas

Sydney Calkin, QMUL Geography

Agniezska Lyons, QMUL SLLF

Leila Ullrich, QMUL School of Law 

We are delighted that our colleagues Sydney Calkin from Geography and Agnieszka Lyons from SLLF will join Leila Ullrich from Laws to speak on this topic. Each of their work in different ways highlights and illuminates a host of intriguing questions about the importance of technological developments to research, from how these are enabling methodological innovation and bringing new primary research sources and sites into being (eg Leila and Agniezska’s work with Whatsapp data and methodologies), to the reframing of substantive research agendas (eg Sydney’s work on how technological developments at the state and global levels are transforming the ways that women are able to access abortion in states with restrictive laws). Sydney, Agniezska and Leila will each speak for about 15 minutes, sharing how their work engages with these issues and kicking off a broader discussion.

11 November 2020 - The role of biography in research: choosing the subject matters, enriching methodology and advancing knowledge

The idea of this session is to stimulate thought and discussion about different ways that biography plays a part in our research. This might be through:

  • our own biographies influencing substantive research choices, and then the perspectives, approaches, attitudes, skills, positionality etc that we bring to investigating those topics;
  • methodologies that in different ways use biography and the documenting of lived realities;
  • research projects that themselves centre on writing (or otherwise discovering and recording) biographies.

John, Penny and Caroline will draw on their experience and work to talk about different aspects of this topic, and the challenges and possibilities of drawing on biography in research.

18 November 2020 - Handling ethical challenges as an academic: old and new

This revives a planned session from our cancelled DoL March 2020 Research Awayday. The session grapples with how ethical challenges academics face span familiar issues and new dilemmas. Examples of the latter arise from research in contexts that are inhospitable to independent research, from researchers performing a range of different roles, maybe exacerbated by the impact agenda and the drive to gain external funding, and from developments in teaching provision, not least related to Covid 19.

The panel will make short interventions drawing on their own experience on the one hand, as researchers, teachers and scholars and, on the other, of substantive research projects.

25 November 2020 - How do we do, and use, theory?

Please note: this seminar will be held from 1:30-3pm.

There are many different practices of foregrounding and backgrounding theory in the research and scholarship conducted across the school, and yet we sometimes find ourselves talking, and teaching, as if ‘theory’ is this framework, which pushes research in a particular direction. What would it mean to think about theory as a commitment that we use to drive our critical explanations along, with some drives taking more recognisable paths than others? Some staff find their intellectual pleasures in abstract questions of legal theory and the nature of law. Others are committed to thinking abstractly about legal engagement, but in critical, historical and contextual registers. Others still find theoretical revelations in grounded knowledges as they work obscure generalisations from particular forms. Some of us prefer to engage with theorising through a commitment to empirical and doctrinal knowledge of actual and possible worlds. But probably all of us have been challenged to evaluate our theoretical commitments and preferences as we collaborate within and across disciplinary boundaries. This session will provide a space for reflecting on different ways that we do, and use, theory, including those that take us out of our comfort zone as we try out novel engagements.

2 December 2020 - The ethics and politics of critical academic work

The increasing importance of the impact agenda in the academic landscape has thrown up problematic questions around the intended and unintended effects of our research. These questions have always been here but they are now more pressing as more of us grapple with how to ensure that our research has impact outside academia.

The impact discourse generally sees impact in binary terms. Research either has it or doesn’t have it (or has more or less of it). The context of that impact and questions about whether the impact is positive or negative, intended or unintended are rarely addressed. The underlying assumption is that all impact is good impact. The aim of this seminar is to problematise that assumption.

This issue is currently pressing for me in relation to a paper I’m working on about the personal values of Supreme Court Justices (abstract below). The paper argues that the ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ approach to their values is no longer sustainable and that the appointments process needs to find ways to surface what is currently known and taken into account about appointees’ values but never explicitly acknowledged.

I started work on this piece about 4 years ago before the Justices had been deemed ‘enemies of the people’. The context is now very different and I’m conscious that my work may be taken up by those members of the Judicial Power Project and the Constitution, Democracy and Right Commission who want to curb the power of the Supreme Court to check executive action in the light of the Miller decisions. Politically and ethically, this would be an impact that I, personally, would regret. One response to this problem is to comfort myself that as an academic article it’s unlikely to have much impact in the real world anyway, but hoping for one’s work to be ignored doesn’t feel like a very attractive way out of the dilemma!

So instead I’m hoping that the conversation in the seminar will help guide me in relation to this particular piece of work and also that we will open up the discussion to cover colleagues’ experiences in related dilemmas concerning the impact of their work as well as some of the wider ethical or political issues raised by the impact agenda.

Abstract: Values diversity in the UK Supreme Court: Abandoning the ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ policy

The case for greater judicial diversity has to date been constructed almost exclusively in terms of the need to appoint more women and judges from minority ethnic groups. This article shifts the focus from demographic to cognitive diversity. It draws on new insights and methodologies applied from the behavioural sciences which have identified the effects of judges’ personal values on their decision-making and analyses the relationship between demographic and values diversity. It argues the case for the potential benefits of values diversity in the UK Supreme Court and challenges the claim that recognising values in the judicial appointments process will inevitably lead to a US-style politicised Supreme Court. It asks what changes would be needed to the appointments process if values diversity was recognised as being as significant as demographic diversity on the Court. As a first step, it argues for greater openness around values in the judicial appointments process to make explicit what is currently tacit and to lift the judicial values-blackout which has to date given rise to a ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ approach to the role of Justices’ values in the Court’s decision-making.