Category Archives: What we’ve Done

Davina Cooper @ IFLS | The Future of Legal Gender

Thursday September 19 2019  1230-2

Osgoode Hall Law School   IKB ROOM 2027

THE FUTURE OF LEGAL GENDER

Professor Davina Cooper, Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College

all text in poster is available in the post.

Are there good reasons to retain a system in which people have a formal legal sex/ gender? What might change involve? And what are the challenges, risks and benefits of radical reform? This talk draws on a British, feminist, law reform research project, currently in its second year, to explore these questions. It approaches decertification, where the state no longer stands behind people’s sex/gender, from two primary angles: the politics of moving from gender-as-identity to gender-as-network (or something similar); and the politics of prefiguring what the law (and its options) could be.

If you would like to learn more about the research project this talk draws on? See here for the project website, and/or read this fascinating blog post from one of the Researchers, Dr. Flora Renz. It is up at the UK Socio Legal Studies Association blog.

Fluctuating intensities: Thinking about gender through other socio-legal categories

” Part of the challenge of a prefigurative law reform project, is to think through what such options would look like. If we want to imagine and anticipate different ways of dealing with gender as a legal status, one useful starting point may be to think about how other identity statuses or categories are currently dealt with in social, policy and legal contexts. Disability as a category may offer a particularly rich source both for comparison, but also to think about how future changes to gender could be approached from a different starting point. In thinking through these issues I am using disability or chronic illness not as a direct comparison but rather as a prompt for considering some aspects of gender that are less prominent in current discussions, such as gender as a legal category whose intensity and relevance may fluctuate in different times and places.”

Three Critical Feminist Takes on #metoo:  Further reading, references and questions

Thanks to the crowd who came out for this IFLS panel on Thursday November 22. As promised, I have collected references from the three presenters here, and have also tried to set out the questions that the audience raised at the end of the panel.

Prof. Brenda Cossman

The paper on which the talk was based is available: #MeToo, Sex Wars 2.0 and the Power of Law (September 2018). Asian Yearbook of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (Forthcoming) . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3257862

ABSTRACT: In this essay, I explore these contestations between and among feminists within the #MeToo movement. Some feminists have expressed discomfort and disagreement with elements of the #MeToo. This critique was quickly framed as a generational one, with media reports focusing on the conflict between millennials and second wave feminists. I argue that it is more productive to situation the disagreements and contestations of #MeToo within the context of what I refer to as Sex Wars 2.0 – that is, the return of the feminist sex wars of the 1970s and 1980s.I also explore the controversies around role of law in the #MeToo movement. #MeToo critiques, including some feminist voices, have denounced the absence of the rule of law, with individual men losing their livelihoods without the due process of law. I argue that this critique is itself symptomatic of the broader role of law in the legal regulation of sexual violence. Law has long been the arbiter of sexual violence, both defining and harms and deciding whether that harm has occurred. Even in its apparent absence, law is I argue deeply present. It is this power of law that casts a long shadow over #MeToo and helps explain the due process critiques and some of the feminist contestations around the overreach of law.

REFERENCES FROM PROF. MATTHEWS

Heidi Matthews, Why the Kavanaugh hearings were a show trial gone bad at The Conversation  https://theconversation.com/why-the-kavanaugh-hearings-were-a-show-trial-gone-bad-102025.

Heidi Matthews, How do we understand sexual pleasure in this age of ‘consent’?in Aeon https://aeon.co/ideas/how-do-we-understand-sexual-pleasure-in-this-age-of-consent.

Prof. Matthews also suggested Janet Halley’s “The Move to Affirmative Consent”, (4 November 2015), online: Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society <http://signsjournal.org/currents-affirmative-consent/halley/>.

REFERENCES FROM PROF. PARMAR

Nivedita Menon, Is Feminism about ‘Women’?: A Critical View on Intersectionality from India, Economic & Political Weekly. (Apr. 25, 2015)

I do not think this one is available open access.  Here is the abstract: Feminism requires us to recognise that “women” is neither a stable nor a homogeneous category. Does intersectionality as a universal framework help us to capture this complexity? This paper argues that it does not. It addresses this question through the intricacies of the terrain that feminist politics must negotiate, using the Indian experience to set up conversations with feminist debates and experiences globally. Feminism is heterogeneous and internally differentiated. We need to pay attention to challenges to the stability of given identities– including those of “individual” and “woman.” These challenges constitute the radically subversive moments that are likely to be most productive for feminism in the 21st century.

Woolley, Alice and Darling, Elysa, Nasty Women and the Rule of Law (January 21, 2017). 51 USF Law Rev 507, 2016-2017. Available open access at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2903214.

Abstract: Lawyer bashing is a robust and accepted social tradition. But recent events create the impression that women lawyers face more than the generic suggestions of dishonesty, untrustworthiness, greed and adversarialism that typify anti-lawyer criticisms. Criticisms and attacks on women lawyers are personal and gendered, as well as being intense and hostile, in a way that differs from the generic, often humorous, and impersonal nature of traditional antipathy to the legal profession. And even when women lawyers are viewed positively, commentary focuses on their looks, clothes and families, in a way that is not the case for men. This paper identifies the reasons for and consequences of how we talk about women lawyers.

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement (2018) https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo22265507.html

“Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.

The extreme nature of today’s climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; Ghosh shows that the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictory and counterintuitive elements.

Ghosh ends by suggesting that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit fiction and politics to individual moral adventure comes at a great cost. The climate crisis asks us to imagine other forms of human existence—a task to which fiction, Ghosh argues, is the best suited of all cultural forms. His book serves as a great writer’s summons to confront the most urgent task of our time.”

Jacobowitz, Jan L., Lawyers Beware: You are What You Post! The Case for Integrating Cultural Competence, Legal Ethics and Social Media (October 24, 2014). SMU Journal of Science & Technology Law Review (Forthcoming). Available open access at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2514678

Abstract: First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak. –Epictetus

Words used carelessly, as if they… do… not matter in any serious way, often allow… otherwise well-guarded truths to seep through. –Douglas Adams

Happy Mother’s Day to all the crack hoes out there. It’s never too late to tie your tubes, clean up your life and make difference to someone out there that deserves a better mother. –Assistant State Attorney in Orange County, Florida

No thought left unspoken…social media networking — ubiquitous in our society — provides the opportunity for individuals to share their moment-to-moment thoughts and actions. Social media has created communities and its own culture. Social networking communities have empowered individuals to join together to stage uprisings, support charitable causes, launch entrepreneurial ventures, and generally share the accomplishments and defeats of their daily lives.

Many lawyers have joined social media networks and are actively participating in both their professional and personal lives. Some lawyers have found social media networks to be beneficial in marketing their practices and in obtaining information and evidence to more effectively represent their clients.

Unfortunately, other lawyers have found themselves caught in a quagmire of ethical and professional missteps resulting in disciplinary problems and loss of employment. These lawyers often fail to appreciate the application of the legal ethics rules and standards of professionalism to the use of social media. Moreover, like many other individuals engaged in social media, these lawyers generally seem to lack cultural awareness and perspective on the far-reaching impact that a social media communication may have upon the audience and ultimately upon the communicator.

This article explores the importance of cultural competence both as a critical component of effective and ethical legal practice and as it pertains to a lawyer’s participation in social media networking. The article will first define cultural competence and its significance for the legal profession. Next, the article will discuss the culture of the legal profession as it is reflected in social science research, popular culture, and scholarly works. Then, the article will examine the culture of social media and the legal profession’s participation in this culture. Finally, the article will explore the interrelationships of cultural competence, the legal profession, and social media with the goal of providing insight and guidance for lawyers to professionally and ethically engage in social networking.

References from Prof. Lawrence

I spoke briefly about the #USTOO initiatives being developed at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in Toronto under Legal Director Deepa Mattoo.  You can find the clinic here: https://schliferclinic.com/ although nothing references USTOO on the website.

I pointed to the fact that the hashtag was originally created by a Black woman in the U.S., Tarana Burke, but more importantly, as I understood it, Tarana Burke’s inspiration was realising how few services were available in majority-minority neighbourhoods, services open to and welcoming Black and brown girls who had experienced sexual assault and abuse. Her work was about imagining, funding, and creating those services and spaces. The space between this project, and the the white, celebrity driven rebirth of #metoo as a hashtag for shared stories of assault and harassment on social media is instructive in a number of ways about what kind of work is bring done by #metoo.

I noted that there is a long history of feminist work which actively problematizes the criminal law and state engagements.  I highly recommend the work of the activists and scholar-activists who comprise INCITE! A good introduction is available here.

“Gender Violence & Race”, (31 July 2018), online: INCITE! <https://incite-national.org/gender-violence-race/> .

See also Critical Resistance and Incite!, “Critical Resistance-Incite! Statement on Gender Violence And the Prison-Industrial Complex” (2003) 30:3 (93) Social Justice 141, online: <https://www.jstor.org/stable/29768215>.  You could also consider the arguments in Osgoode Prof. Dianne Martin’s “Retribution Revisited: A Reconsideration of Feminist Criminal Law Reform Strategies.” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 36.1 (1998) : 151-188. https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/ohlj/vol36/iss1/4.  There are more recent treatments, but my point is, much of this material is well over a decade old. There’s more before that.

Concern about what happens when state punishment is understood to be the solution to violence against women is not new.

I also referenced extensively BU Law Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig’s piece in the Yale Law Journal Forum:

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, “What About #UsToo?: The Invisibility of Race in the #MeToo Movement” (2018) 128 Yale Law Journal Forum 16 June 2018, online, https://www.yalelawjournal.org/forum/what-about-ustoo.

ABSTRACT. Women involved in the most recent wave of the #MeToo movement have rightly received praise for breaking long-held silences about harassment in the workplace. The movement, however, has also rightly received criticism for both initially ignoring the role that a woman of color played in founding the movement ten years earlier and in failing to recognize the unique forms of harassment and the heightened vulnerability to harassment that women of color frequently face in the workplace. This Essay highlights and analyzes critical points at which the contributions and experiences of women of color, particularly black women, were ignored in the moments preceding and following #MeToo’s resurgence. Ultimately, this Essay argues that the persistent racial biases reflected in the #MeToo movement illustrate precisely why sexual harassment doctrine must employ a reasonable person standard that accounts for complainants’ different intersectional and multidimensional identities.

AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

We took some excellent questions from the Audience without trying to answer them – I’ve set them out here in a general way and my apologies for damage I have done to the ideas as originally expressed:

  • Questions about the ways that critiques from women of colour have approached #metoo, especially in the context of Islamophobia, and state securitization. This question specifically referenced the Toronto murders allegedly committed by Alex Minassian, and calls from some prominent feminists (see e.g. here)  to call these and other misogynistic attacks ‘terrorism’, a position that ignores the significant harm that has been visited on Muslim communities post 9-11 through laws that focus on terrorism, and the weight of critique generated in scholarly and public circles by scholars, including feminist scholars, who have focused on post 9-11 state surveillance and narratives about terrorism.  Heidi Matthews has a comment on the question of the “terrorism” label here in The Conversation.
  • There was a question that focused on another form of law, beyond the criminal, which has been significantly engaged in these #metoo conversations, the law of defamation. Professor Matthews referenced this issue in her discussion of the “Shitty Media Men List” and Stephen Elliot’s defamation lawsuit against Moira Donegan.  How does, perhaps in particular, Prof. Cossmans’ analysis of the role that law is playing in our understandings of sexual harms position this form of legal regulation?
  • Another question focused on the distinction between de facto and de jure wrong, that is things that are wrong because law says they are wrong, but might not otherwise be recognized socially or morally as wrong, and things that are de facto wrongs – that are understood to be morally wrong regardless of what law says about them.  The significance of consent in laws about sexual harassment and assault may tend to blur this dichotomy.   Can this distinction help us understand what work is being done by the various positions feminists and others have taken in this debate.
  • One question raised Ghomeshi – this was from Osgoode PhD Candidate Dana Phillips, author of this “Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault: Survivor Stories and the Law in the Jian Ghomeshi Media Discourse.” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 54.4 (2017) : 1133-1180. https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/ohlj/vol54/iss4/9, who referenced the rehabilitation narratives of men named in high profile #metoo cases, asking what we can learn from these reflections on the work that #metoo is doing (this is NOT doing justice to what Dana said, and I’m particularly concerned about that because I’ve named her! So Dana, if you correct me, or want to expand on this just let me know.
  • Another question asked how we could or should talk about both #metoo and the underlying issues, given how many people, especially men, seem scared to talk about it.  This question pointed the challenge of how to engage towards the cultural change that all interventions suggested was more likely to help resolve the harms that #metoo has (re)surfaced, than a thickly applied layer of criminal law.
  • Professor Ena Dua, a colleague at York, had to leave before putting her questions on the table, so I followed up with her and she came back with four!  (1) How do we understand the role of the media in these processes? “It seems that the media has taken on the role of an investigation – and the prosecutor’s role. The public takes on the role of the judge. How does that make affect our thinking about the limited possibilities of the law that two of the speakers talked about?”. (2) Relatedly, about the reporting of these events, and the inclusion of “intimate and graphic sexual details – including descriptions of folks bodies”.  How do Marxist or sex radical approaches analyse this somewhat secondary aspect, in particular where the complainant has not agreed or been interviewed.  (3) Thirdly, Ena wanted to talk about not criminal law, but labour and employment law and the ways these position the responsibility of the employer where the employer is not the person engaging in the complained of behaviour. (4) My favourite question from Ena ties the three talks together by referencing Ena’s perception that from the beginning of #metoo Indian feminists have been both vocal and divided on its potential.  Having heard similar from folks in South Africa and Somalia, Ena wanted to ask whether feminists in the global south have a different relationship to the possibilities of the law than those in the West. For me this also raised the question of a matrix of divisions, noting political commitments, location and positionality, and, frankly, lawyer/legal scholar, or not.

Congratulations to Michelle Miles OHLS’18, this year’s IFLS Vanguard Award Receipient

For your Feminist Friday inspiration, here’s recent Osgoode graduate Michelle Miles, this year’s IFLS Vanguard Award recipient.

Awarded annually since 2014, the Vanguard Award recognizes:

“…a graduating student who has shown bravery and intelligence in bringing attention to issues of importance for feminism(s). The Award winner will have displayed leadership qualities including the ability and willingness to engage in critical &/or constructive difficult conversations.”

Nominated by a long list of folks – including students from every year of the JD, an alumna, a professor and two lawyers from two different clinical programs – Michelle Miles was a summer intern at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, part of the Feminist Legal Advocacy program at Osgoode, took a leadership role with the Osgoode Feminist Collective, and served as the Vice President of the Osgoode Black Law Student’s Association.

She’ll  be articling at a family/criminal law firm in Toronto and continuing to be an advocate for women and vulnerable communities.Osgoode IFLS Congratulates MICHELLE MILES IFLS Vanguard Award Winner Osgoode JD 2018. (quote" "For students in need of feminist spaces, ways of thinking, and leadership, Michelle was a beacon in the storm of law school." Photo of Michelle, arms crossed & hair in brads, in a glen plaid suit (upper 3rd). Osgoode and IFLS logos.

Here’s what some of her nominators wrote about Michelle:

“…always quick to raise the voices of others, to initiate and guide much-need and rarely-had conversations, and to call in rather than call out.”

“….[the] recommendations to combat anti-Black racism at Osgoode are the result of Michelle’s diligent activism, organization and guidance.”

“…compassionate, dedicated, and an utter joy and relief to be around.”

“…Michelle vocally and eloquently defended equity seeking groups and their needs. It is one thing to do so when everyone in the room is nodding with you. It’s a completely different situation when you keep getting pushback from other students, who do not come to the table with the same life experiences as you, and from lawyers, who have a lot more authority and influence than you.”

“Michelle is THE feminist advocate many of us associate with our time at Osgoode.”

“I don’t think anyone is as committed or as patient or as tireless as Michelle Miles.”

“Our profession will only benefit from having a resilient Black woman like Michelle in the lead.”

“For all that she has done in her three years at Osgoode (and it is more than most people know and more than Michelle herself will acknowledge), she deserves the IFLS Vanguard Award.”

_____________________________________________________

A further thank you from the IFLS to this amazing alum of Osgoode.  Pretty sure students don’t always appreciate how much their work can mean for their professors.  Putting this post together provided mid June inspiration through thinking about the hard conversations Michelle pushed for, and the ways her feminist peers appreciated that work.

[If you’re at another school and thinking ‘maybe we could have one of these awards’, here’s a page describing what it’s for – we spent some time thinking about this and some of the details might be of interest to you:  https://ifls.osgoode.yorku.ca/what-we-do/ifls-graduating-student-vanguard-award/ ]

Version 2 of How to Be a Better Chair of an Academic Panel

For those who liked the original “How to be a better Chair of an academic panel” handout, here’s version 2, enriched via crowdsourcing.  New thoughts about keeping time (we’ve got signs for you, download here) some science (“calling on a woman to ask the first question will increase the number of women who ask questions: Carter, Croft, Lukas & Sandstrom, Women’s visibility in academic seminars: women ask fewer questions than men. Available at http://bit.ly/2JQfhiw”) and a gentle reminder that you don’t have to call on people in order, nor do you have to let the first person with their hand up ask the first question.

Get it and share it in DOCX Format   PDF Format

Thanks to all of you who chimed in via twitter and other modes!  And to those of you who wondered why we don’t take on the whole organization of academic conferences, we agree there is space for someone out there to do a “Just have a better CONFERENCE” tipsheet.  We’re looking forward to it.

page 1 of document as photo, available in PDF and DOCX form in this post.

Critical Theory for the Future | Conversations for the Future

 

UPDATED July 26 2018

Here’s OHLS grad program LLM Candidate Lara Tessaro on the ideas we heard at the event:

On June 6, 2018, Dayna Nadine Scott and the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies drew together a group of feminist scholars to share their thoughts and prescriptions on how to approach Critical Theory for the Anthropocene Future. How, they were asked, can we simultaneously reckon with environmental violence and inequalities, while nonetheless collectively rejecting the catastrophism so often invoked by Anthropocene narratives?

The evening began with Crystal Sinclair (Nehiyaw), an artist, hand drummer, facilitator, organizer, water protector, land defender, Indigenous rights activist and member of the Idle No More movement. Crystal shared some Nehiyaw histories, and acknowledged the territory on which we were gathered.

Then Dayna introduced the event’s themes. She noted that we have all had to come to terms with the “Anthropocene era” – the geologic age of humans – as we confront the profound impact that humans have had on the planet, with its apparent ecological boundaries and limits. Proponents of the Anthropocene want us to fear our demise, she said, and indeed, she admitted that we sometimes get caught dreaming about a world without humans in it. Other times, “we try to dream into being bold, beautiful, feminist, decolonial visions of a future on this planet – thriving in the Anthropocene or flourishing after the Anthropocene”. Dayna mused about the “strikeout” of the term Anthropocene in the title of the event, saying that it was meant to signal that this term is only ever shorthand. While the concept immediately brings to mind planetary boundaries and ecosystem survival, and in some ways challenges people to change their course, it also “throws us all into a bucket called “humanity” that erases past and present inhumanity, colonialisms and oppressions”. Each of the evening’s four speakers has influenced our thinking on these themes over the past several years, from different disciplines and perspectives, and each offers critical insights for a better future.

Dayna mentioned that her own engagement with these themes began through a growing dissatisfaction with the way that many legal scholars think about the future. Referring to her recent paper co-authored with Jess Eisen and Roxanne Mykitiuk, she recalled the environmental law doctrine of intergenerational equity, which provides that current generations hold the planet in trust from previous generations and for future generations – meaning that people living today have obligations to people living in the future. Yet this necessarily raises the questions: “Which people living today? What obligations? What will people in the future need? What new and old oppressions will characterize the future? And why only people?”

The first speaker, Angela P. Harris, is a foundational voice in critical race feminism. She has considered implications of the “Anthropocene” for critical legal theory, taking it as an opportunity to inject anti-subordination imperatives into vulnerability theory. In her comments, Angela compellingly assembled the movements that label themselves with the word justice – whether environmental justice, reproductive justice, food justice, land justice, climate justice, or data justice. Following Paola Bacchetta, she encouraged us to theorize these movements as “X Justice”, in which X is the embrace of the unknown and unknowable future. She also urged us to stay with the vague “etcetera” that often clings to the end of our accounts of identities. Compounded, these two commitments make “etcetera and the X”. All these X movements share commitments to undermining white settler law. Angela theorized that white settler law operates through two distinct modes of power: subjection (think corporations, states, persons, wild animals, farmed animals, children) and spatialization (think Canada, US, ghetto, wilderness, private sphere, public sphere, market, state). She concluded by identifying ways in which X justice movements and scholars are undermining these two dynamics, making space for anticolonial and decolonial work.

Next up was Zoe Todd (Métis), an anthropologist and fish philosopher who has helped people see how the “ontological turn” in anthropology and other disciplines is indebted to Indigenous worldviews. Zoe contributed virtually through a video recording. She first read a condensed version of a 2017 piece on relationality in Métis worldviews. Métis legal-governance traditions draw on the Nehiyaw (or Cree) legal principle of wahkohtowin, which, as described by Métis historian Brenda MacDougall, is “predicated upon a specific Aboriginal notion and definition of family as a broadly conceived sense of relatedness of all beings, human and non-human, living and dead, physical and spiritual.” Grounded in wahkohtowin, Métis life centers on tending to relations. Zoe described how she came to understand this all the better after living in the UK, where she learned what it is to be unclaimed: “Without relations, without someone to claim me, and without people to claim, I am nothing.” Zoe then shared her playful and moving poem the Tenderness Manifesto, in which she (at)tends to the multivalent meanings and affects of tender and tenderness (spurring some lawyers in the room to ponder the care-full act of tendering evidence). through a witness).

 

During a break to congregate and contemplate with colleagues old and new – and for refreshment and nourishment (much thanks to the Gladstone for staging the evening so smoothly) – audience members were encouraged to write down and pop in a box any questions they had for the speakers. For those interested in novel chairing techniques, check out the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies’ ongoing experiment with fairer modes of chairing panels.

The second round of speakers began with Usha Natarajan, an international law scholar who works within Third World Approaches to International Law (or TWAIL), a movement that exposes the ongoing coloniality of international law. Usha began by outlining different ways that international lawyers have responded to environmental degradation. Emphasizing that environmental harms have been created by the North, some lawyers in the South have proclaimed principles such as “common but differentiated responsibility”, now successfully reflected in multilateral environmental agreements. Some critical postcolonial scholars have pointed to how the North has refused to live up to these obligations; while these concerns are valid, this postcolonial critique has not helped to tackle environmental degradation. It has a certain tactical value, allowing resistance to the mainstream’s obsessive focus on climate change as a distraction from underlying inequities (here, she recalled how Manhattan emits more greenhouse gases than all of sub-Saharan Africa, yet humans and nonhumans in these countries experience the brunt of unmitigated climate change). However, focusing only on redistributions of power and wealth will not likely provide solutions to climate change; ultimately, more fundamental changes are needed in our ways of knowing the world. Yet our legal concepts remain wedded to environmental destruction. Sovereignty, for example, is fully dependent upon sovereign states mastering nature. The concept of human rights further atomizes the world into rights-bearing individuals abstracted and demarcated from our natural environments and other species. Usha ended her comments by reminding us that nature has laws of its own, available to us if we listen.

Michelle Murphy, the evening’s final speaker, is a Métis technoscience studies scholar working on environmental and reproductive justice, data politics, race, and colonialism. With many collaborators, including through the Technoscience Research Unit, she seeks to reconceive chemicals and enact decolonial futures. Posing the question “how does environmental data manifest settler colonialism and racial capitalism”, Michelle wants to consider “ways of working with and against data towards better land-body relations”. To illustrate these “infrastructures of gaslighting”, she chronicled a history of the Imperial Oil refinery in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley – including a massive 2017 flaring event that Vanessa Gray of Aamjiwnaang, with help from Ecojustice, is working to remedy. Chemical Valley is embedded in scientific legacies of how we study and monitor chemicals – one chemical at a time, narrowly prescribed effects, dose-response curves. While activists feel compelled to use the resulting state-reported data to generate environmental justice arguments, Michelle asks: “What if the objects we think (with) are in the world are wrong?” Following Eve Tuck and Audra Simpson, unthinking chemicals also requires refusing damage-based research. Moreover, by refusing to apprehend chemicals as small and individual, we can embrace new ways to depict the extensive and expansive chemical relations in which we are entangled.

When opening a collective conversation, Dayna joked that she was not sure the speakers had followed her direction to be hopeful – which produced some profitable pushback. Angela noted, when confronted with students’ feelings of hopelessness, that rather than let uncertain futures foster fear, she stresses how uncertainty is always also possibility. Insisting that her talk was hopeful, Michelle celebrated the liberation that comes from “naming better concepts” and from the recognition that researchers do not have to work with decontextualized, atomistic objects –  like “chemicals” – but can reorient their research around relations. Asked whether this might redeem the object of “law”, Usha reminded us that the products of all disciplines are inadequate – though imagination, art, and literature can help us to articulate things otherwise.

Sonia Lawrence said that she, for one, had experienced the evening as being truly hopeful. Sonia thanked the humans and institutions that had made the event possible. In addition to the four speakers and Crystal Sinclair, she thanked the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, York University MES student Garance Malivel, Osgoode Hall JD student Graham Reeder, Ashley Bell of Osgoode Hall, Suzette Collaird of the Gladstone, and the roomful of those who had gathered to contemplate Critical Theory for the Anthropocene Future

Lara Tessaro