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Identity and Belonging
The Edinburgh University Law School; the Global Justice Academy; the Finnish research group Family Law and Personal Life;and the Finnish Graduate School Law in a Changing World co-organized an intriguing and inspiring workshop on identity and belonging at the Old College, in the dignified atmosphere of the Raeburn Room, on Thursday and Friday 16-17 May. The presentations in the workshop all addressed, in one or another, combinations or intersections of legal subjectivity, issues of minority citizenship, marginalized identities and belonging. They challenged the constructions of normality and subjectivity in the law from various perspectives, such as queer and gender aspects, perspectives to vulnerable or incapable groups, and approaches focusing on care and caring activities.
The workshop was opened by the convenors with warm words of welcome by Professor Anne Griffiths (Edinburgh University, Law School) and some remarks concerning the practical issues by Doctoral Candidate Sanna Mustasaari (Helsinki University, Law Faculty), followed by a cosy round of introductions. The first speaker, Professor Jennifer Corrin (The University of Queensland, Australia), spoke under the title Who is an Islander, elaborating on the definition of islander in the complex legal system of Solomon Islands. The term ‘Islander’ is the principal term used to differentiate between indigenous and non-indigenous members of society in Solomon Islands. Historically, this term has been defined in different ways in legislation. It has also received conflicting interpretation by the courts, particularly in the context of marriage and divorce, as the definition of “Islander” also defines whether the law applicable to a case is customary law of the village and tribe or the State law. The term is of crucial importance, for instance, in deciding which of the three matrimonial regimes is applicable to a case.
In her thought-provoking presentation titled Families, Identity and Belonging: Rethinking Personhood and Property in Botswana Anne Griffiths spoke about the changing attitudes towards family relationships and care in Botswana through a study of inheritance dealing with land transfers. She addressed, for instance, the joint effect of gender and class to the changing position of women in contemporary Botswana. Anne Griffiths’ presentation was followed by Doctoral Candidate Henna Pajulammi (Lapland University, Law Faculty), who spoke about the child’s right to participate, addressing the legal framework of children’s participatory rights, policies and practices in Finland. The first session, as well as sessions 3 and 5, was superbly chaired by Dr Frankie McCarthy (University of Glasgow).
The second session, chaired by Anne Griffiths, dealt with gender and representations of sexuality in law. In her interesting presentation, titled Sexual citizenship in post-Yugoslav States: “Europeanization” and changing legal frameworks, Katja Kahlina (Edinburgh University, CITSEE project) assessed the ways in which sexual citizenship has been re-defined in the Yugoslav successor states in the past decade, and reflected critically upon the process of “Europeanization” by examining to what extent the hierarchical distinction between the “civilized” Western Europe and “yet to be civilized” Eastern Europe present in the negotiation process affects the (nationalist) resistance to the rights of sexual minorities. Doctoral Candidate Carolynn Gray’s (Universities of Glasgow and the West of Scotland) presentation, titled The (Gender)Queer in UK Law: Why Current Protections are Insufficient, elegantly addressed the epistemology of sex and gender, asking us how do we define sex and gender, and posing the question of why do we base the system for protecting and acknowledging individuals on gender identity that continues to be based on the binary model of male or female.
Doctoral Candidate Pablo Marshall (Glasgow University) opened session 3 with his presentation, titled Criminals’ Disenfranchisement: Genealogical Observations on Political Capacity, that examined the disqualification of various groups of people and different possible justifications of restricting criminals’ right to vote. His presentation interestingly compared elements of political capacity consisting of both cognitive and moral capacity. Pablo’s presentation was followed by Doctoral Candidate Kati Nieminen (Helsinki University, Law Faculty), who in her presentation, titled Rebels without a cause? Conscientious objection and civil disobedience in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, addressed the ways in which the private and public spheres may be manipulated to emphasize certain elements of an objecting act in order construct them as private claims or violent manifestations. Continuing with the themes of restrictions of rights and freedoms both Anna Mäki-Petäjä-Leinonen (Helsinki University, Law Faculty) and Dianne Gove (Alzheimer Europe) spoke about challenges related mainly to old age. Anna’s presentation titled Elder law approach to the restriction of freedom discussed the promises of elder law as a relatively new field of law to systematically address the problems experienced by the elderly in relation to the paradox of needing both protection and recognition of autonomy. Dianne’s presentation titled People with dementia and restrictions of freedom took these points to a practical level by introducing the new guidelines of Alzheimer Europe and the important work carried out through this European organization which promotes rights and good care for people with dementia.
In the final session of Thursday, brightly chaired by Professor Ann Stewart (Warwick University), Dr Jane Mair (Glasgow University) and Doctoral Candidate Sanna Koulu (Helsinki University, Law Faculty) discussed the complicated issues relating to recognition of care aspects in family relationships and law. In her presentation, titled The Value of Care in Work and Family, Jane addressed the relational and intimate aspects of care and posed the question of whether the progress of formal equality has in reality empowered those members of the family (usually women) who in day-to-day life take the duties of providing other members of the family with care. Sanna’s presentation, titled Doing right by the family? From an ethic of justice to an ethic of care, picked up the theme, asking is there room for an ethic of justice in family law, thus forming a harmonious continuum to end the academic program of the day.
The first session of Friday, the second day of our workshop, focused on challenges of cross-border mobility cultural diversity. Opening the day, Doctoral Candidate Katja Karjalainen (Helsinki University, Law Faculty) spoke about the interplay of Hague conventions and EU private international law. In her presentation, titled Foundation of the EU Private International Family Law: Focus on the cross-border protection of incapable adults she asked, for instance, whether the free movement and the parity of citizens are fulfilled when in the case of EU citizens weakened capacities. Dr Magdalena Kmak’s (Helsinki University, Law Faculty) presentation, titled Producing Subjectivity through Confinement: Detention of Asylum Seekers in European Union, widened the theme of cross-border mobility to asylum seekers and third country citizens. Examining the compromise version of the recast of the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down standards for the reception of asylum seekers and Dublin III Regulation, adopted by the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament, she discussed the problems of providing for detention of asylum seekers with open norms that, in fact, enable the use of detention to an even wider group of asylum seekers. Magda also introduced real life examples of asylum seekers who have refused to be seen as powerless victims lacking agency, and thus challenge the prevailing narrative about people in need for international protection.
Dr Dorota Anna Gozdecka’s (Helsinki University, Law Faculty) presentation, titled Rights or Responsibility? – Post-Multicultural Europe and Dilemmas of Recognition, brought the discussion back to themes similar to those discussed in relation to care. Approaching these issues from a philosophical angle, she showed how the Levinasian ethics of alterity could, in fact, help us to see beyond the rather limited lens of rights by presuming an a priori responsibility for the Other. Sanna Mustasaari’s presentation titled Citizenship and Family Law in the Era of Cultural Diversity and Transnational Family Networks, presented a relatively optimistic account of the promises of rights, sketching out some building blocks for a new paradigm of the research on the family to be used in the new settings of transnationality and cultural diversity. This revised paradigm would draw on the idea of universalism of rights, as in that there are elements of rights that can be perceived as cross-culturally salient.
The last session of the workshop was chaired by Sanna Koulu and addressed new approaches to personal qualities, labour and law.Ann Stewart’s thought-provoking presentation, titled Exploring the legal identity of migrant women body workers in the UK, was based on her published text, a chapter titled Legal Constructions of Body Work, in Wolkowitz et al (eds.): Body/Sex/Work, Palgrave MacMillan (2013). In her presentation she described the contrasting ways in which the ‘sex’ and ‘care’ work are regulated through criminalisation and denial of the status of work. Doctoral Candidate Marjo Ylhäinen (Helsinki University, Law Faculty) touched upon the same theme of difficulties in understanding needs for protection in contemporary ideas of labour law. In her presentation, titled How the object became the subject – autonomous responsibility and labour law, she asserted that the modalities of time and space, through which the identity of controlled worker was born, are now challenged by increase of the value placed on personal capabilities and personality of the worker. She discussed how this new identity of the employee may be met in labour law and what implications it might have to the idea of legal protection of the employee.
All of the sessions were followed by vivid and intent discussion, participated also by Nina Miller (Glasgow University) and Dorota Szpakowicz (Edinburgh University) with their sharp and clever questions and comments. Hopefully the inspirational atmosphere and captivating discussions during the workshop will bear collaboration in the future. Many ideas were thrown in the air – to mention one possible site for such cooperation, the Research project Law and the Other http://www.helsinki.fi/law-and-other/index.html , at the University of Helsinki, could suit very well for future research meet-ups on identity and belonging. The researchers in the research group Family Law and Personal Life will also continue to work to arrange a follow-up for our wonderful workshop.