Issue 3 - Summer 2017

Law Undone

Read On_Culture's Issue 3 (Summer 2017): "Law Undone: De-humanizing, Queering, and Dis-abling the Law – Further Arguments for Law’s Pluralities," guest-edited by Greta Olson and Sonja Schillings.

On Un-Doing Law

Why should we un-do law? Sociological and anthropological approaches to law and legal processes have long suggested that state-made law has to be understood as a culturally embedded process and as but one form of prescriptive ordering among many others. If law is understood to be one normative system that, like others, serves to order human life, then why should we desire to take it apart? […]

The Juridical Voice of Literature

A Perspective on Literature’s Entanglement with Normativity

Abstract

Based on the logic of the Lacanian mirror paradigm, Pierre Legendre claims that every culture needs to create a metaphysical entity of Reference, for the sake of the legitimacy and validity of its normative system. This entity disguises the abyss at the core of culture and legitimates it by staging itself as its origin. As such, the Reference not only authenticates individual and cultural subjectivity, but also becomes the foundation of law. Given that Legendre attributes a fundamental role to aesthetics in the creation of this entity, my essay will identify the role of literature in this respect, arguing that, on the one hand, literary texts help confirming the readers’ attachment to a specific order of Reference, i.e. of normativity and imagery. On the other hand, my essay claims that literature also has the capacity to reflect on the basis of cultural normativity and to unveil the contingency of normative truths. This results from what I call the cultural structures of testimony. Thus literature unleashes emancipatory forces with regard to a culture’s normative system. The essay tests this hypothesis by analysing E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Sandman, a narrative that because of its play with the categories of fiction and reality is particularly salient.

Law Undone

Corporeal Subversion in Mariella Mehr’s Stoneage

Abstract

At a time in which the corporeality of excluded subjects is prominent in socio-political discourse, this article proposes a critical interdisciplinary reading of the way in which the juridical positioning of the corporeal is designed to obscure the threatening ruptures in the originary body of the law. The sedentarizing anti-nomadic program of removing children and incarcerating them as wards of the state in Switzerland between 1926 and1972 demonstrates a systematic juridical authorization of the attempt to disrupt and excise the ‘diseased’ and ‘degenerate’ body of the Yenish from the ‘ordered’ body of the pure state. Through a close analysis of Mariella Mehr’s novel Stoneage (1990 [1981]), read through a theoretical framework informed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s work on the “Body without Organs,” Giorgio Agamben’s reading of Primo Levi’s “Muselmann,” and vulnerability theory, this article aims to lay bare the ways in which law is implicated in the process of negating corporeal disorder in the context of a eugenic program conducted against the ‘unlawful’ body.

The Legal Person and Its Other

A Comparative View on Drawing and Effacing Boundaries in Various Cultural Contexts

Abstract

Focusing on the project of “de-humanizing law” calls for a discussion of the concept of the legal person for two reasons. Firstly, legal processes of personification have at times gone beyond the anthropocentric bias in legal thinking; secondly, the definition of personhood has often brought about de-humanizing results. By scrutinizing various culturally and historically dependent drawings of the boundaries of personification, it can be shown that the presumed equivalence between legal persons and humans does not hold. This can be illustrated through an analysis of legal personification of animals as well as some recent legal attempts to attribute personality to nature. In contrast to these inclusionary processes of personification, there have always also been efforts to deny certain human beings the status of legal persons. Despite becoming more inclusive historically, modern law does not eschew with creating abnormal non-persons (beasts, monsters, dangerous beings, etc.) in order to underline the construction of individual/rational attribution and accountability. Defining legal personhood not only implies a differentiation between persons and non-persons, but, especially in the Western world, between persons and things. Whereas bio-political issues have somewhat challenged this division, there are examples showing that in some contexts this division was never made clearly in the first place. Finally, the analysis of problems that current international copyright law faces when dealing with questions of traditional knowledge and cultural heritage reveals the occidental bias concerning the conception of personhood, namely its link to an individualized image of the ingenious author.

Bypassing the Law in a Homeless Vehicle

Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van

Abstract

In The Lady in the Van, British playwright Alan Bennett recounts his two-decade acquaintance with a homeless woman who ended up living in a van in his driveway for 15 years. The story has gone through several incarnations, from Bennett’s diary entries (published 1989) to a stage play (1999) and a film adaptation (2015). Subverting and disabling the law and its institutions with the help of a vehicle is a key theme in all these versions of the story. Laws regulating the activities and whereabouts of the unhoused poor have notoriously criminalized poverty and excluded the poor from social and economic participation. Legislatures from the 1970s onwards abandoned former attempts to mitigate the circumstances that lead to a loss of shelter. Lawmakers instead adopted a more punitive neoliberal approach that targets homeless individuals through a plethora of new, highly specified illegalities. This essay discusses how Bennett’s narrative and its adaptations expose and question the heteronormative, bourgeois-centric practices of anti-homeless laws via a disruption of dominant tropes of poverty and homelessness. Through these subversions, the texts also grapple with the very practical conflicts around invasion of personal space and the mundane inconveniences that are inevitable results of sharing one’s private space with a physically and mentally unstable homeless woman. A specific focus will be on the fluidity of the division between public and private spaces that requires constant negotiation within the social microcosm of The Lady in the Van. The socially alien presence of a homeless woman and her unwieldy vehicle complicates the neighbors’ private and professional lives and, in the process, rattles the structures dictated by different sections of the law, such as parking restrictions, property laws, income support, and traffic regulations.

The Law’s Gender

Entanglements and Recursions — Three Stories from Sri Lanka

Abstract

Our essay examines the recursions, rationalities, limits, and promise of the law drawing on three recent cases of women who encountered law enforcement authorities and the courts in Sri Lanka. It provides a strong account of how dominant gender norms are mobilized to determine who is afforded the sanctuary of the law and who is not. By foregrounding the troubled encounters of the women with the law the essay also demonstrates the ways in which the law, culture, and the state combine, pull apart, and recombine in a manner that draws attention to their own internal relations; and how procedures established to ensure legal objectivity and judicial impartiality often fold back on themselves, reflecting the pliancy of the law. The essay also foregrounds the conditions of possibility, including feminist legal methodologies, that enable women to (re)turn to the law despite its transgressions. In doing so it argues for seeing the law as multilayered and recursive, reflecting the thick and uneven conditions under which women access justice in Sri Lanka. In highlighting how these women challenge and bargain with the law, the essay also acknowledges their tenacity and endurance in what, ultimately, is an effort at demanding an improved and substantive justice.

Undoing Ableism

Disability as a Category of Historical and Legal Analysis

Abstract

In this essay, I will apply disability as a category of legal and historical analysis to undo the different forms ableism can take in US history and law. My aim is to look at a specific time period in US history – the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century – in order to elucidate narratives of exclusion and marginalization of disabled people on the one hand and resistance and resilience on the other. My claim is that in this period, disability gains particular political and legal relevance as an intersectional, i.e. a gendered, classed, and racialized category of analysis, which leads to the cross-connection between ableism and other dominant ideologies, such as sexism, racism, and classism.

In order to give my analysis historical and cultural specificity, I will look at two distinct historical and legal contexts. In the first part of this essay, I discuss the interrelation of ableism and classism in the context of the industrialization and the subsequent socioeconomic discrimination of disabled factory workers. As a legal subtext, the fellow servant rule will be discussed to understand how this particular law becomes relevant for disability politics.

In the second part of the essay, ableism is explored in the context of racism to understand how atavism and biological determinism contributed to the othering of disabled people, especially disabled women, in the context of eugenic ideology of the early twentieth century. Here I will discuss the US Supreme Court decision for the case Buck v. Bell in order to understand eugenic law as a reflection of an ideology that is both ableist and sexist at its core.