The Summer Conference Circuit: Team Reflections

The Summer Conference Circuit: Team Reflections

This summer the PROPERTY[IN]JUSTICE team were busy presenting papers (15 in total!) at five different academic conferences, in Cork, Dublin, London, Maynooth and Lisbon. The general themes of the conferences signposted the urgency of the times we live in: “From Discourse to Action” (UCC conference on Environmental Law, Cork), “Law, Alternative Economies and Activism (WG Hart Workshop, London), “Legal Histories of Empires” (Maynooth University), and “Rage, Reckoning and Remedy” (Law and Society Global Meeting, Lisbon). Below we bring collective thoughts on the individual events and experience overall.

Conferences are a wonderful way to learn about ongoing scholarship and research, but so much of their value lies in the in-betweens – in between sessions, during the coffee breaks, chatting on the way to and from the venue, a drink at reception later in the evening.  Future partnerships and projects, even enduring friendships, are born of these moments. These are the things we missed during the pandemic, when most events were held on Zoom.

From Discourse to Action, UCC Law and Environment Conference, Cork, 5 May 2022

The Law and Environment conference at UCC is now a staple on the Irish legal calendar. This annual event organised by UCC’s Owen McIntyre is unique in bringing together law academics, environmental law practitioners, activists, NGOs, and public servants. Three members of the project team presented at this year’s conference: Amanda (who presented on the Escazu Agreement in the opening session), Amy and Sinéad, who both presented on landscape and law (international and Irish context respectively) in the session on landscape and planning.

After two years of Covid-19, it was wonderful to attend in person and see new and old friends over some well-earned pizza and pints at the Franciscan Well. It might just be the pints talking, but often these side-events bring with them the most insightful conversations. It was troubling to hear from attendees that US style “SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) litigation is on the rise in Ireland from international companies, targeting those seeking to protect landscapes and ecological cohesion. Overall, the mix of attendees lead to stimulating conversations and debate and the level organization and hospitality of Owen McIntyre and Áine Ryall means the conference is a wonderful ‘salon’ for debate. The positive atmosphere fosters the capacity to change minds and re-assess institutional priorities. This was the first outing for PROPERTY [IN]JUSTICE at an Irish law conference, and what a pleasure it was!

Landscape, Law, and Spatial Justice, Dublin, 12-13 May 2022

The UCC conference set a high bar for our own project-hosted symposium in Dublin the following week at the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) on St. Stephen’s Green, the original UCD campus. One of the aims of our symposium was to bring together legal scholars with scholars from geography and other disciplines to explore and confront the links between landscape and law. We were very grateful that our wish-list of speakers accepted our invitation to come to Dublin, and we also received some excellent papers from the call we issued, which, together with our terrific panel chairs made for enriching discussions over the course of the two days.

Both the beauty of the venue and the level of engagement of the speakers and attendees made this symposium very special to us. The relatively small size of the event meant that everyone was privy to discussions happening outside our respective areas of knowledge. There was also a really good mixture of international and local conversations, with topics spanning land justice in Kenya, landscape communities in Calais and the Naqab, to housing justice in Ireland.

An interesting aspect of the conference was the amount of personal ‘place-making’ interactions people had with their subject – from Kenneth Olwig’s home and the natural boundaries of its trees, to Christopher Roberts recording the paths created by students in his university. It was interesting to hear how Nicole Graham’s work on Lawscape has progressed since the publication of her PhD thesis.

Olwig and Graham’s scholarship in cultural geography and property/environmental law respectively provide the conceptual bookends for the Property [In]justice project, so it was wonderful to have them together for the first time in a physical space like MoLI. The interrelated threads of their work across disciplines really kicked off the sessions and set the tone for the rest of the symposium.

The dinners each evening were also wonderful, getting to talk with people working in different contexts but sharing the same systemic challenges, and engage in our own ‘dialectic’ on the state of landscape and property in law and policy.

A definite highlight of the event was Conor McCabe’s spatial justice walking tour of Dublin, which took us through the city of Dublin in terms of its spatial justice aspects and the materiality of politics in everyday life. It was especially surprising to hear that the old Jacobs factory on Bishop Street was site of a serious confrontation during the 1913 lockout – with a hardline response from Jacob’s management, and that the four-lane road through Cuffe Street was once filled with people’s gardens. The walk had us physically engaging with our environment and understanding more about the context of the city that was hosting us – something we realised could be a prerequisite to make events like these more grounded and connected.

Responding to the Crises: Law, Alternative Economies and Activism. WG Hart Workshop, London 9-10 June  

The 2022 Hart Workshop (attended by Amy, Amanda, and Sonya) had a fantastic plenary session on Racial Capitalism with Kojo Koram, Diamond Ashiagbor, and Dalia Gebrial. We met some interesting and inspiring people, like Theodora Valkanou, who is working on the international movement for peasants’ rights.

This workshop covered a broad range of themes, but we would have liked there to have been more rage or emphasis on the activism part of the workshop’s theme. This may sound controversial, but given the urgency of the topics addressed, we were surprised to see that in addition to some truly excellent papers presented on all sorts of topics, there was a fair amount of conservative and traditional legal argumentation that did not, in our opinion, challenge the status quo.

We liked the fact that the organisers invited artists to give the final sessions of the day, but felt that these performances could have been more integrated into the sessions. However, the main feeling we had coming away from this conference was that with the exception of the plenary panel on the first day, there could have been some more engagement with the role of Britain in creating the crises we were discussing. This would have framed our roles as legal scholars and the place where these conversations were happening in a manner that is historically situated; as well as showing respect to those communities who have not contributed to the global crises discussed, yet face its most devastating effects.

Beyond the Pale: Legal Histories of Empires, Maynooth University, Ireland, 29 June-1 July 2022

Amanda chaired the project panel at the Maynooth conference including the three presentations by our PhD researchers Sonya and Sinéad and Raphael (who zoomed in from Kenya). This was the first opportunity for our PhD and postdoc researchers to present together as a team, and they complemented each other well in terms of highlighting various aspects of spatial injustice, using case studies from their own countries as former British colonies (Ireland, Grenada and the Eastern Caribbean, South Africa and Kenya). There was some rich discussion with the audience, which included a cross-section of junior and experienced researchers, with interests in indigeneity, cultural heritage and the environment. Their questions teased out many of these interlinked themes in the PhD students’ ongoing research and the role of law in re-ordering relationships between communities and the natural world.

A highlight of the Maynooth conference was the Keynote on Anglicisation of and through law in British America, Ireland, and India, c.1550-1800, given by Professors Jane Ohlmeyer, Richard J Ross, David C. Baum and Philip Stern. The panel gave a brilliant overview of how the law was used to fundamentally change the cultural patterns of prior civilisations to fit a model of Anglicisation that was itself formed by meeting with these new communities. The panelists brought us through the history of ‘Ireland as laboratory’ – shaped through empire, and then those learnings shaped the world. The speakers also discussed the intense reactions that their research has sparked when it comes into conflict with current imaginings of Empire in media and ‘common sense’. It was wonderful to link in with researchers working on these topics in Ireland and to share jokes and insights over a pint or two as well.

“Rage, Reckoning and Remedy”, Global Meeting on Law and Society – Lisbon, July 13-16, 2022

Our last big conference was the Law and Society Association’s Global meeting in Lisbon. Despite the vast scale of the event, it was very stimulating overall.  It was also was wonderful to meet so many people from across the world working on related topics. Our project panel was scheduled on the last session on the last day of the conference (!), so we were delighted to see a few bodies attend. Our PI Amy chaired presentations by Amanda, Raphael (via Zoom due to visa issues, more of this anon), Sonya and Sinéad. A number of very important questions were raised during our project panel Q&A.  In particular, Rachel Sieder from the Pluriland project (Theorizing Conflict and Contestation in Plural Land Rights Regimes) raised the question of how do we tie place-based legal approaches to an international legal regime which seems to have run away with itself in terms of climate (in)action and biodiversity collapse? This question led to Sinéad significantly reorientating her PhD research question, which now aims to tie the dynamics of international energy law to place-based disputes. Sinéad credits this fundamental re-think as emerging from discussions with peers, project colleagues and walking through the lively streets of Lisbon – enjoying delicious pasteis de nata and espressos.

The intense 40-degree heat was a wake-up call, however. The conference was filled with discussions on the need to move on from climate policy ‘tweaks’ to serious systemic and systematic action. The need for radical transformative change, as called for by the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) became clear from the seriousness of presentations, particularly those from critical law, decolonial, TWAIL and indigenous perspectives. Papers on solar panels on the homes of those already wealthy and comfortable in northern Europe may not quite be what we need at this point…!

The heat inevitably contributed to reflection on how large conferences such as LSA could put their socially-oriented research into praxis. The conference did make a serious effort to be online as well as in person. However, in-person meetings and after-conference debates can be very important for the distribution of knowledge, particularly for younger academics and those from non-Global North universities. The conundrum is finding a balance between the important personal and intellectual connections arising from gathering in-person, with the obvious need to curtail air travel.

This summer’s conference circuit was the first opportunity for the team to share research as a team.  It reminds us that research is about community, that researchers have a duty to serve communities with their research, but that we also make up a community ourselves.  The various conferences and workshops we attended this summer not only gave us food for thought but also brought out conflicting and contradictory ideas which only served to strengthen our individual or collective resolve. We were heartened in the knowledge that there were gaps that still could be filled, and our relative perspectives and insights could be valuable. 

However, coming back to visa issues, the inordinate waiting time just to get an appointment for processing his visa application meant that Raphael was unable to join us in-person in Lisbon. This seemed very unfair and highlights the disparity in levels of access and participation in events like these for researchers from the Global South.