Complicity, Elitism and Storytelling: Exploring Moral Ambiguity in Times of Injustice

In her second post for this blog, GJA Communications Intern, Jee-Young Song, reflects on the recent GJA GREYZONE Summer School keynote session on ‘Conceptual Perspectives’.

The Summer School kick-started on Monday the 25 June, the theme this year being ‘Navigating the Grey Zone: Complicity, Resistance and Solidarity’.The following is from the ‘Conceptual Perspectives’ talks, where expert speakers from the fields of human rights, philosophy, and political theory (Ruth Kelly, Charlotte Knowles and Lukas Slothuus, pictured above) each gave their unique insight on the key issues.

Storytelling as a way to reinforce human rights

First to speak was Ruth Kelly, who focused on the potential for narrative to help communities articulate approaches to the development of human rights. To give an example of such artistic intervention, she showed footage taken at a poetry workshop in Uganda, where a woman recites a poem about struggling to choose between action and complicity, entitled ‘Should I stay? Should I go?’.

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The Use of Sport Initiatives to Promote Human Rights in Palestine

This post, by Asil Said, first appeared on the University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Sport blog, Sport Matters. Academy of Sport Director, Professor Grant Jarvie, is a member of the Global Justice Academy Management Group.

Books and Boxers and the Right to Movement are but two interventions aiming to make a difference to the lives of youth in Palestine. This Academy of Sport-Sport Matters blog provides an evidenced insight into the struggle for sport as a human right within Palestine. 

Sport, Palestine and the International Community

Sport and physical activity has international recognition as a simple, low cost and effective tool for development, and a means of achieving national and international development goals. The United Nations Agenda 2030 has provided sport with a mandate to contribute to social change.

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Legacies of Human Rights Violations: Beyond the Legal Paradigm

In this blog, the organisers of this IIF-sponsored film series reflect on the three events and issues raised. The series took place which took place between January and April 2018 at The University of Edinburgh.

The film series ‘Legacies of Human Rights Violations’ addressed the contemporary legacies of human rights violations from an artistic, cinematic perspective. The series involved showing four films: I Am Not Your Negro, My Beautiful Laundrette, REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony, and Kamchatka. The selected films tackled issues as diverse as racial oppression, gender norms and agency and institutionalised state violence. Specifically, the films focused the experiential reality of human rights issues that stands beyond the grasp of the legalist perspective and its disembodied standards of right and wrong. Indeed, our purpose was to shed light on how the structural, deeply entrenched practices of oppression and discrimination affect people’s everyday lives, intimate domestic spheres and interpersonal relationships, while also unearthing the everyday, relational forms of dissent, solidarity and resistance that arise in response. The film screenings ensued in a fruitful dialogue across the fields of political theory, anthropology, law, film and music studies. They were well attended and engaged students, staff and the broader public in a discussion on the ethical potentials and limitations of cinema as a mode of creative learning and democratic education.

The first film, I Am Not Your Negro, perhaps most explicitly exposed the limits of the Western liberal understanding of democracy and the supposed neutrality of its legal institutions, as revealed by the structural nature of racial oppression. In the film, the director Raoul Peck tells the story of James Baldwin, an American novelist and social critic, based on his unfinished manuscript Remember This House. At the forefront stands Baldwin’s conversations and friendships with prominent figures of the American civil rights movement, such as Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr, bringing forth an emotional insight into the struggles for racial equality in the US.

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The Shadows of Torture: Reporting from Guantánamo

This series of blogs presents a number of the legal issues raised at the April – May 2018 military commission proceedings against the alleged plotters of the 11 September 2001 (9/11) terror attacks against the US in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. taking place at Camp Justice, Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba.

The author, Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, is conducting a research project entitled Torture on Trial, which is funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

1. The Shadows of Torture

When people speak about torture and the war on terror, the most egregious and publicly decried acts generally pop to mind: waterboarding, walling, sleep deprivation, and so on. As the military commission proceedings in case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case) unfold, less examined examples aspects of torture reveal the irreversible physical and mental impacts on victims of such abuse.

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Talking Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in the Context of Migration Negotiations

Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, Chair of the Association of Human Rights Institutes and member of the Global Justice Academy, discusses Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in the context of the UN Global Compact for Migration.

In a previous post, I gave general overview of the UN Global Compact for Migration and a brief analysis of the Migration Compact thematic discussions on the distinctions between human smuggling and human trafficking. This note considers modern slavery, a topic with which the University of Edinburgh is highly engaged through both academic projects as well as its Modern Slavery initiatives. Following on from the distinction between migrants smuggled into a state for the sole purpose of evading legal migration and individuals trafficked into (or within) a state for purposes of exploitation, the following will present key debates about modern slavery and human trafficking that are highly relevant to the conclusion of a comprehensive Migration Compact.

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Smuggling or Trafficking? Defining the Terms in the UN Migration Compact

Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, Chair of the Association of Human Rights Institutes and member of the Global Justice Academy, discusses recent steps towards a UN Global Compact for Migration. This is the first of two blogs from Dr McCall-Smith on the Migration Compact negotiations.

The next steps toward a UN Global Compact for Migration to combat the ever-growing legal and policy issues associated with mass and irregular migration were taken at the UN headquarters in Vienna, Austria, 4-5 September 2017. The Compact aims to deliver a comprehensive approach to human mobility as well as further clarification of and support for existing international frameworks addressing migration, refugees and trafficking, including the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking in Persons Protocol) and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Smuggling of Migrants Protocol), as well as a number of human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), among many others.

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Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum

Dr Dimitrios Kagiaros (Edinburgh Law School) reports on a recent workshop, ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’, held at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, Spain with support from the Global Justice Academy.

Organised by Professors Mike Adler (University of Edinburgh), Sara Stendahl (University of Gothenburg) and Jeff King (UCL), the purpose of the workshop was to bring together international experts from a variety of research backgrounds to discuss the theme of ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’. The overarching issue that was examined related to the difficulties in determining how poor and vulnerable people can achieve basic minimum standards of nutrition, health care, housing, income, employment and education.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines, including legal theory, human rights law, constitutional and administrative law and social policy, the invited academic speakers were asked to submit research papers illustrating recent developments and new challenges in this field. The workshop followed a particularly innovative approach in generating discussion. Commentators were assigned to each paper and were responsible for presenting its content while also acting as discussants, providing feedback and identifying points for further discussion. This facilitated in-depth consideration of each paper and multiple opportunities for exchange of ideas across disciplines.

The conference theme generated debate on two controversial issues. Firstly, the workshop addressed different approaches and obstacles to defining a social minimum. This included discussion on the concept of poverty, the legal position of social assistance recipients, the concepts of social rights and social responsibilities, and the relationship between resources and the concept of a ‘minimally decent life’.
Secondly, the workshop aimed to bring further clarity to the thorny issue of how such a minimum can be achieved. More specifically, participants critically assessed the contribution of national policies, international conventions, targets and development goals, bills of rights or other forms of constitutional protection to securing this social minimum. Special emphasis was placed on the role of courts. Participants presented judicial approaches to securing a social minimum from India, South Africa, Brazil, and at the international level, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

Dr Kagiaros’ paper focused on the role of the European Court of Human Rights in this debate. The paper relied on recent admissibility decisions where applicants unsuccessfully challenged austerity measures adopted to give effect to conditionality agreements in states in the midst of a debt crisis. While ultimately the applications failed at the admissibility stage, the Court in obiter statements alluded to the possibility that a wholly insufficient amount of pensions and other benefits would, in principle, violate the Convention. The paper explored these statements in detail to decipher whether in fact the Court would be willing to set a social minimum standard of protection. The paper argued, that although a duty not to target specific individuals with harsh austerity measures while leaving others unaffected has been read into the ECHR, it is unlikely that with this statement on insufficiency of benefits the Court intends to create a social minimum.

Overall, this was a particularly enriching experience for all involved and hopefully more similar opportunities will arise to discuss these issues in even greater depth.

More about the author:

Dr. Dimitrios Kagiaros is a Teaching Fellow in Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law. He has taught on constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law courses at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Hull. His research interests include whistle-blower protection, the impact of European sovereign debt crisis on human rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to freedom of expression.

 

 

The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh, and is an intern at UN House Scotland. As a member of a delegation from Scottish civil society, she recently attended negotiations in New York on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted 7 July 2017, at the United Nations.

The United Nations has aimed to ban nuclear weapons since it was established in 1945.[1] In fact, the very first UN General Assembly resolution established a Commission to set in motion measures towards nuclear disarmament.[2] Until recently, the most important instrument to this end was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).[3] Recent years have seen growing discontent with the discriminatory nature of the NPT, which distinguishes between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. Additionally, the NPT faces criticism with regard to the stagnation of nuclear disarmament. Although the treaty includes an obligation to work towards nuclear disarmament, Article 6 has not, as of late, provided sufficient incentive for nuclear weapon states to act.

With an aim to finally move forwards, in October 2016 the UN disarmament and international security committee saw 123 nations voting in favour of meeting to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination. These negotiations have taken place throughout spring and summer 2017 and have culminated in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on the 7th July this year.

The treaty prohibits member states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, and disallows them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to participate in such activities. Furthermore, it has become forbidden to allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on member states’ territory. Of equal importance are the positive obligations in the treaty to provide adequate victim assistance and to take measures towards the remediation of environments contaminated as a result of the use or testing of nuclear weapons. Although not explicitly mentioned, there is a growing understanding that financing constitutes ‘assistance’ with prohibited acts.

The text and preamble of the ban treaty reflect the efforts of civil society by emphasising the humanitarian and environmental impact of any nuclear detonation, be it accidental or intentional. The humanitarian initiative proved successful in shifting the debate out of the security argument stalemate states had become entrenched in. At the negotiations, civil society had the opportunity to share the experiences of victims of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, and to highlight the devastating impact of any detonation and the lack of adequate emergency-response capacity.

By placing human welfare and safety at the centre of the treaty, it is hoped that the ban treaty will have a ripple effect similar to that of the Conventions prohibiting Biological and Chemical weapons. Therefore, even though none of the nuclear weapons states have expressed any interest in joining the negotiations or the treaty, it is hoped the legal norm combined with continued pressure from civil society will eventually convince governments to discontinue nuclear deterrence policies.

The ban treaty is of particular interest to Scotland because of the country’s unique position of having to facilitate nuclear weapons without having any say in the decisions involving them. This is because nuclear weapons are considered a matter of national security and as such fall outside the scope of Scotland’s devolved powers.

[1] https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/ (last visited 9 July 2017).

[2] General Assembly Resolution VIII, Establishment of a commission to deal with the problem raised by the discovery of atomic energy (24 January 1946), available from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/1(I) (last visited 9 July 2017).

[3] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (5 March 1970) 729 U.N.T.S. 161.

If you are interested in reading more about the negotiations on the ban treaty, including daily reports from the Scottish civil society delegation to New York, visit http://www.nuclearban.scot/ and http://www.icanw.org/

If you want to find out more about civil society engagement surrounding nuclear disarmament, please visit:

http://www.banthebomb.org/

http://www.nukewatch.org.uk/

http://www.article36.org/

If you’re interested in reading twitter updates, the handle to follow is #nuclearban

More about the author:

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh. She holds an LLM in Private Law from the University of Leiden and an LLB from the Utrecht Law College of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Dagmar’s research interests span public international law, specifically environmental law, climate change law and human rights. Her current research relates to the international constitutionalism in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education

Dr Callum McGregor (Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh) reports and reflects on a recent Edinburgh lecture on digital citizenship and digital education, funded by the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund

In collaboration with the Global Justice Academy, a number of people recently eschewed the rare evening sun in favour of assembling at Moray House School of Education for a public lecture entitled ‘Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education.’ More noteworthy still, was the palpable enthusiasm in the room for striking up a sustained dialogue on social justice and digital education, across a range of standpoints and disciplines. This event, made possible with the support of the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund[i], was organised by a small group of academics, tentatively titled the Forum for Digital Culture and Social Justice (DCSJ)[ii]. The DCSJ forum is at the initial stages of adumbrating a cross-disciplinary research agenda at the confluence of social justice, digital culture and education. The purpose of this event was to catalyse this process by creating space for an inclusive conversation about what digital citizenship is and what it might be, if re-framed as a political project for social justice.

The event was co-chaired by Dr Karen Gregory (Lecturer in Digital Sociology at the University of Edinburgh), and Dr Jen Ross (Senior Lecturer in Digital Education) who fielded questions and comments from participants using the hastag #deresearch, who were watching via the livestream (click here to watch the recording). Proceedings began with an input from members of the aforementioned DCSJ forum, Dr Akwugo Emejulu (Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick) and Dr Callum McGregor (Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh). They offered a polemical intervention that sought to disrupt the ways in which dominant cultural narratives construct digital citizenship, by explicating a concept of ‘radical digital citizenship’, and its implications for digital education. The arguments they advanced drew on a co-authored paper, published in Critical Studies in Education. Professor Emejulu and Dr McGregor argued that radical digital citizenship must push beyond ameliorative conceptions of digital citizenship, wherein the role of education is to bridge the ‘digital divide’ for the benefit of groups failing to be flexible enough to survive under the conditions of neoliberal techno-capitalism. They proposed that such an educational task involves two co-constitutive elements: (1) critical analysis of the political, economic and environmental consequences of digital technology in everyday life; (2) collective deliberation and action to build alternative and emancipatory techno-social practices.

This was followed by a response from Dr Emma Dowling[iii] (Senior Researcher, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Jena) and Dr Huw Davies[iv] (researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and Convener of the BSA’s Digital Sociology study group). These inputs acted as stimuli to a lively and convivial discussion with attendees over tea and coffee. Below, respondents Emma and Huw share their reflections:

Emma Dowling

“The crucial question Akwugo Emejulu and Callum McGregor ask is what makes the digital possible, looking at the extraction of natural resources and gendered, racialised and classed human labour that the development of digital technologies is premised upon.  Their analysis makes three core proposals that could orient a radical digital education. First of all they caution against the instrumentalisation of digital education for neoliberal ends and urge for an understanding of what global social relations constitute the digital and condition the effects that digitalisation has. Moreover, their approach signals a commitment to social justice that insists on a critical pedagogy with the capacity not just for an analysis of the power relations behind digitalisation, but a commitment to transforming them. Transforming these power relations requires the identification of key sites of transformation. Undoubtedly these are conflictual terrains of struggle about how the materiality of the digital is spoken about and organised. Naming forms of exploitation is part of the struggle to transform them. A recent example is the way in which critical voices have refused to settle on the term ‘sharing economy’ that makes invisible the hyper-exploited forms of work undertaken by people providing services such as driving, delivering food or cleaning houses in platform capitalism. The more recent term ‘gig economy’, while in and of itself not changing those conditions, nonetheless gives a name to these activities as work and draws attention to the precarious ways in which this work is organised. Making sense of the affective structures of precariousness is another way in which agencies for transformation can be unearthed, because this allows for subjective everyday experiences to be deindividualised and related to the social structures that produce them. Critical pedagogies for digital education must do so much more than provide mere skills to process information and compete in an ever-more precarious labour market. Instead, radical digital citizens committed to social justice must be able to question and challenge the forms of exploitation, expropriation and oppression that are entangled in today’s algorithms.”

Huw Davies

“I found Emejulu & McGregor’s Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education  (2016) inspiring. Their paper shows some of the most cited scholarship on digital skills and literacies is ‘sociology-lite’. This literature draws-up taxonomies and descriptions of normatively defined skills and literacies which once translated into curriculum plans become part of the problem of digital inequality rather than its solution. Emejulu & McGregor argue we shouldn’t disengage ‘the digital’ from the all the historic and continuing struggles for equality because, despite the utopian rhetoric, digital technology is quickly maturing into another exclusionary and privileging technology of power.

For example, every child from years 1 to 9 in England is to study Computer Science before being offered it as an option at GCSE. However, there is growing concern that the digital economy–far from being the meritocracy that is suggested in the discourse about the 4th industrial revolution–is becoming a ‘ruthless stratifier’ (Posner, 2017). This is because the dominant mode of production for the digital economy is ‘platform capitalism’ (Srnicek, 2016): a winner takes all system (Kenney and Zysman 2016) that allows the owners of platforms to operate exploitative employment practices that harness the affordances and fragilities of immaterial labour (Friedman 2014; Hill 2015; Leyshon et al. 2016), such as the ability to code. One of the myths of anti-immigration discourse is that if we close our borders natives will no longer have to compete with foreigners for jobs. But platform capitalism’s use of immaterial labour to create a transnational playing field (so that jobs with digital outputs such as software engineering can be put out to tender to an international workforce) means young people will be competing in global market place while having to pay for local living expenses. Therefore, to avoid their exploitation we can’t just rely on teaching young people to code (or skills and literacies) they need to be thinking about they can use these skills to challenge the architectures of digital economy’s dominant socio-technical structures (Davies & Eynon, forthcoming).

As a respondent, I took the opportunity to argue the most constructive contribution I can make is to help transform Digital Sociology into a respected mainstream subject that can influence the content of curriculums for all ages and levels. I described Digital Sociology as the most effective discipline for challenging platform capitalism. I argued that sociologists are able to draw on strong traditions to challenge the ideologies behind platform capitalism, but to understand code and digital infrastructures and their relationship to the political economy we have some way to go. Then (Digital) Sociology can offer a critique, which can become the foundation ethical alternatives to platform capitalism’s monopolies.”

[i] The public lecture was also funded with the support of the Institute for Education, Community and Society and the Centre for Research in Digital Education. Also, thanks to Dr Karen Gregory and Dr Jen Ross, who acted as chair and digital chair, respectively. Finally, particular thanks to learning technologist Barrie Barreto for livestreaming and recording the event.

[ii] If you are interested in participating in this group and helping it to develop, please contact Karen Gregory (karen.gregory@ed.ac.uk), Callum McGregor (callum.mcgregor@ed.ac.uk), or Jen Ross (jen.ross@ed.ac.uk).

[iii] Emma’s interests cover global social justice, feminist political economy and affective and emotional labour. She is the author of a forthcoming book on the Crisis of Care to be published by Verso Books.

[iv] Huw’s research combines social theory with mixed, digital and ethnographic, methods to help critically re-evaluate how we approach young people’s digital literacies.

 

Sexual Intimacy, Gender Identity & Fraud: A Conversation

This blog post was written by Heather Milligan, Communications Intern for the Global Justice Academy. The blog reports on a recent seminar event hosted by the Centre for Law and Society at The University of Edinburgh and led by Professor Alex Sharpe of Keele University on sexual intimacy, gender identity and fraud. 

The Centre for Law and Society at the University of Edinburgh recently hosted a presentation and seminar discussion on sexual intimacy, gender identity and fraud. Participants from a range of interdisciplinary backgrounds compared legal, cultural and ethical standpoints to debate convictions of gender identity fraud: either as demonstrating respect for the sexual autonomy of female complainants, or as a concerning example of criminal law overreach. The discussion was framed and contextualised by a series of sexual offence prosecutions brought against young gender non-conforming people (designated female at birth) in recent years in the United Kingdom on the basis of gender identity fraud, all of whom were convicted and placed on the Sex Offenders Register. Professor Alex Sharpe (Keele University) introduced the topic with a brief film clip from the 1992 film ‘The Crying Game’ in order to illustrate the type of intimate encounter between cisgender and transgender individuals that has led to such convictions. The film also served to demonstrate the complainants’ typical responses to cis-trans intimacy, in which the defendant’s gender history is (apparently) not disclosed and this non-disclosure is later perceived as deceptive and harmful.

Professor Sharpe put forward a persuasive argument for bringing an end to the criminalisation and prosecution of these cases, advocating greater individual responsibility for sexual intimacy while remaining sensitive to the difficulties involved in questioning the statements of rape complainants. Her initial presentation was structured around three key philosophical and criminal law concepts: consent, harm and deception. Firstly, the point was made that claims of non-consent in the discussed cases relied heavily on a ‘right to know’ ideology, in which complainants foregrounded an entitlement to the defendants’ gender history, simultaneously dismissing and overruling the defendants’ rights to privacy and dignity. The seminar group discussed the idea that this apparent right to know is often conflated with a desire to define transmen as women against their will: an act of degradation. The discussion prompted resonant legal and ethical questions: should there be an obligation to disclose information prior to intimacy, or should our ethical response be to scrutinise the cisgender demand to know? With implications for sexual offences more broadly, for consent to be informed, how transparent must sexual partners be, and at what cost?

Other examples of desire-led intimacy were put forward to suggest that individuals may wish to know many facts about their sexual partners – for example age, income, drug use, criminal conviction – yet the omission of this information would never lead to prosecution. The specific targeting of gender history is an issue of inconsistency further indicative of the discriminatory effects of civil society and criminal law. These cases seemed motivated by the underlying transphobic (and homophobic) assumptions that no cisgender person would, with full disclosure of their gender history, willingly have intimate relations with a transgender person. This led to interesting audience reflection that complainants often only come forward when encouraged to do so by family or community members, and that the pressure of homophobic society, the fear of being identified as a lesbian by others and internal crises of identity and sexuality, may have motivated the complaints. The societal presumption that any non-cis non-heterosexual intimacy is inherently harmful was identified as an aggressive amplifier in these cases.

 
Finally, a distinction between acts of omission and acts of deception was drawn. It was argued that in cases of gender history and identity disclosure, most often these were instances of ‘not saying’ rather than active or intentional deception, and that these entailed a variety of valid justifications – not least the physical and psychological risk involved in acts of disclosure. Professor Sharpe invited the audience to understand these cases as a balancing of potential harms, weighing the complainants’ feelings of betrayal and distress (potentially a response conditioned by transphobic and homophobic anxieties) against the defenders’ risk of degradation and abuse. Opening up questions and discussion to the audience encouraged a lively discussion on related issues such as the ethics of sexual preference and the reproduction of power dynamics; the (positive) ambiguity of desire; what acts can really be said to constitute disclosure; and, ultimately, whether pleasurable acts retrospectively re-imagined can truly be labelled as harmful.

This event was presented by Law Reform and Social Justice, and The Centre for Law, Arts and Humanities and the Gender Institute.