Capping off our series of grad student reports from LSA in Hawai’i, here’s Osgoode own (now Emory’s in a way) Stu Marvel (more about Stu’s current projects at the link). Got a way with words, does our Stu. Enjoy. And think about what kind of dispatches you might want to send us!
Read Part I (Shanthi Senthe) here and Part II (Nikki Karalekas) here. These “delayed dispatches” from Hawaii are a set of reports and reflections on the substance and the experience of conferencing as a graduate student. Why read them? Because you want to know what is up with these conferences. Because you are a grad student and need some encouragement about conferences, and about what networking can be when it’s being “it’s best self”. Because you are a prof and need the same. Because you are contemplating grad work. Or because you are a professor and it’s always useful for professors to think about what’s happening for the grad students at these events and how we can improve the experience for everyone.
Take 2600 sociolegal scholars from around the world, plunk them on the beaches of Waikiki, add Power Point presentations, and serve in a giant pineapple. The most overwhelming part of the 2012 LSA conference in Honolulu was simply how overwhelming everything was. This was conference-going writ large! Thirty-two concurrent panels at all times! Cavernous rooms filled with jet-lagged people in sunglasses! Mega tour bus shuttles whisking everyone off to rolling lawns and the strains of ukulele music!
The organizers were tops (nice work, IFLS’ own Annie Bunting), our hosts were gracious and always present was our debt to the island itself: the green vistas and golden beaches upon which we talked, debated, laughed, lectured, shared and made community. Yet these conversations across a sea of islands also offered an explicit invitation to reframe colonial modalities of landscape and look instead across our waterways; liquid convergences of space and world-making, power and history. Inspired by the work of Polynesian scholar Epeli Hau’ofa, the guiding logic of the conference fluidly shifted dominant frameworks of sovereignty and challenged us all to ask new questions about the cultural and legal terrain of our 65 home countries (and countless more unrecognized nations).
Our conversations flowed especially toward issues of settler colonialism and indigenous rights, eddying through the 525 panels, roundtables, plenaries and author discussions, and rising (for me, anyway) in the keynote given by Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller from the University of Hawai’i. A brilliant meditation on the spatial re-framing advanced by Hau’ofa, this talk was delivered in the Wednesday afternoon session and provided a welcome opportunity to gather with the hundreds of other grad students at the conference. Such attention to grad students and an interest in nurturing our often tentative contributions was keenly felt throughout the week.
Because part of what felt so thrilling to me was the inclusivity of this conference, with seasoned academic rockstars and fledgling young scholars meeting in the halls and hunkering over sandwiches together. The egalitarianism of our rushed lunchtime repasts may not have translated into equal attendance at the panels – I saw a couple sessions where panelists outnumbered the audience; while author talks with high-profile scholars had people crammed into the aisles – but for those wise enough to get themselves on a CRN (Collaborative Research Network) or IRC (International Research Collaborative), there was generally someone to talk to.
Hot tip for y’all: Get yourself onto one of these specially organized sessions! These panels were crafted with much care, and topics and themes could be discussed in breadth over the course of the conference arc. Grad students, talk to your supervisor and find out how to land in your dream CRN stream! Professors, organize more of these in collaboration with your grad students!
And the choice of feminist streams was nothing short of inspiring, with CRNs on Feminist Legal Theory; Gender and Judging; Women in Legal Professions; International Socio-Legal Feminisms; Gender, Sexuality and Law; Gender and Judicial Education; and Gender Equality. There was also an excellent series on Care and Autonomy in the Age of Austerity, as well as CRNs on Critical Research on Race and the Law; Colonization and Law; and Law and Indigeneity, not to mention independent research streams on Taxation, Regulation, Governance, Social Movements, East Asian Law and Civil Justice. [a bit more on CRN;s at this IFLS post What’s a CRN?” – ed]
With so much to choose from it was hard to narrow down the options. However it was my pleasure to attend 14 panels over the week, with some real standouts from both experienced and emerging scholars. I warmly present my star roster of academic headliners:
Legal Construction of the Elusive Embryo: Jenni Millbank, Isabel Karpin and Sheelagh McGuinness
This panel kicked off the conference for me with a spectacular trio of speakers. Discussion ranged from a philosophical exploration of the complex legal ontologies of the embryo, to an analysis of new empirical research coming out of Australia around assisted human reproduction. The only downside was the absence of Osgoode’s own Roxanne Mykitiuk, who was originally scheduled to present on the panel. Seriously top notch and an exciting start to the week.
Roundtable – Today’s Politics of Settler Colonialism: Renisa Mawani, Brenna Bhandar, Carole Blackburn and Nandita Sharma
This was the most contentious panel I attended, as the speakers disagreed substantially over the role of settlers of colour in indigenous solidarity movements. They wrestled over difficult matters of complicity, responsibility and accountability in contemporary settler colonialism, bringing insight from Australia, Canada, the mainland US, Hawai’i and Palestine. Among an incredibly thoughtful set of panelists, Brenna Bhandar was the standout for me in translating complex postcolonial analytics into a compelling engagement with critical indigenous philosophy.
Gender, Race and Violence: Claris Harbon, Hijin Park, Nan D. Stein, Gena Hong and Stu Marvel
This was my own panel, which was tenderly attended by my stalwart colleagues Amaya Alvez and Nikki Karalekas. Here is also where I learned the importance of getting oneself on a CRN. Bobbing amidst the sea of applicants, my abstract’s offhand mention of conceptual ‘violence’ had landed me on a panel with four women writing about, well, violence: Interracial heterosexual violence, teen dating violence, and the violence of the aborted fetus. Everyone was very kind to my air quotes abstractions, however, and we had a jolly time under the generous chairship of Cynthia Nance.
Author meets Reader – Law’s Relations by Jennifer Nedelsky
I attended two of these author chats and thought them a useful window into the writing and critical process. Jennifer Nedelsky’s new book was energetically discussed by the panel – John Borrows was the standout for me – and as an emerging scholar it was both terrifying and inspiring to see someone’s work so enthusiastically engaged with. Great stuff.
Comparative Perspectives on Indigeneity and Legal Pluralism: Kinka K. Bluesky, Sarah Hunt, Antonia Rivas and Dale J. Dewhurst
This is part of the pleasure of a conference the size of the LSA – listening to people at different stages of their academic career and intellectual projects. Most compellingly for me this panel showcased three emerging female scholars, all of whom were wrestling with the role of indigenous traditions of law within the colonial legal project. I was deeply impressed by the presentation by PhD student Sarah Hunt, who outlined a critical legal geography of the reserve as a “performative ontological project” from which three agentive possibilities emerged. Dazzling stuff about the activation of indigenous space which I’m excited to see developed further.
Cultural Power of Law in Indigenous Legal Experiences in Hawai’i and Canada: Decolonization or Recolonization? – Danielle Conway, Jennifer Llewellyn, Valerie Napoleon, Ronald Niezen, Leslie Jane McMillan
I must admit to feeling a bit of conference fatigue by this point, and I only caught the end of Danielle Conway’s presentation before she ceded the podium to Jennifer Llewellyn. Fresh on the heels of a panel that had solidly rejected the politics of recognition as offering poor concession to a First Nations legal order, I found Llewellyn’s approving overview of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada a bit jarring. However Val Napoleon was the real barnburner on this panel, with a moving and engaging narrative that wove us through the living oral traditions of law and governance from which indigenous legal pluralities emerge. Her deftly gendered analysis pointed the way forward for restorative justice measures based upon the intellectual resources of indigenous song, story and dance. Amazing stuff.
Sexual Mutability and Law: Michael D. Boucai, Lisa Diamond, Terry Kogan, Clifford J. Rosky
I was excited about seeing Lisa Diamond present, as I’ve read her work on sexual fluidity with interest (she has been conducting the longest-running empirical study of sexual identity to date). And gee boy was I right! A truly inspiring speaker, Diamond was funny, charming, whip-smart and juggled a great use of hard science (dynamical systems theory) as applied to understand human motivation and relationality (sexual orientation over time). She had to leave the panel early, and people were literally jumping up in their seats, waving their hands in the air and shouting out questions. It’s like we were at a rock concert.
Author meets Reader – Fatal Intervention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century by Dorothy Roberts
Whew! This was the last panel I attended, after four solid days of reunions, presentations, questions, heated discussion and late-night karaoke. Dorothy Roberts was generous and thoughtful in her response to a slew of interlocutors, and offered a pointed riposte to questions from the audience about the role of deploying scientific racism in a strategic manner to mitigate the harms of the criminal justice system. She moved easily between comments from a pharmaceutical researcher to critical race scholars like Lisa Ikemoto and Osagie Obasogie, across the swath of population genomics, personalized medicine, genetic genealogy, and DNA databanks busily resuscitating race as a biological category written in our genes. Fascinating, and lots to think about as I was floating in the sea not fifteen minutes later.
Basically, it was a dream conference, and I cannot overstate how grateful I am to everyone that I heard speak, listened to me yammer, and – especially – helped me get there. My thanks lie in particular with Professor Martha A. Fineman, who generously supported my trip and allowed me to act as a mouthpiece for the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative in her stead. (Note: Check out this website and sign up for updates on our mailing list!)
Thanks also to Debra Parkes for organizing a great gab session sponsored by the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, and to Nancy Polikoff for putting together a smashing feminist dinner at the local Thai restaurant. And the deepest of thanks to the Kanaka Maoli `O Hawai`i for our time on the islands. I learned a great deal in this short, blissful, dizzying week, and was honoured to be a part of it all.