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Law’s Pluralities and the Place of Law among the Plurality of Normativities

“Law’s Pluralities. Cultures. Narratives. Images. Genders”, Justus-Liebig-Universität, Giessen, May 6 - 9, 2015

A report by Angela Condello


> Conference Program

plakat_LawsPluralities_web.jpgPlurality of Law: Topics and Disciplines


The conference Law’s Pluralities. Cultures, Narratives, Images, Genders was outstanding for a number of reasons. It reflected the complexity and richness of the recent debates in the interdisciplinary field of law and normativity. More precisely, scholars, artists, and intellectuals from many different disciplines contributed ideas and projects in an informal setting and thereby promoted an exchange that mirrored the need of a variety of approaches. At the same time one of the most important characteristics of the conference was the conceptual framing that opened the rather traditional field of jurisprudence in continental Europe, predominantly assessed by lawyers, to methodologies of other academic disciplines (such as literature, philosophy, etc.). The goal was to analyse the main issues that concern the policies and cultures of law beyond the mere juristic horizon.


The conference – attended and created by lawyers involved with interdisciplinary studies as well as by scholars with a background in literature, philosophy, history, sociology, theatre etc. – created a fertile intellectual atmosphere where law was analysed from very different angles.


Legal Plurality of Law


reimer.jpgOn one side there were legal perspectives on theoretical issues within law studies, e.g. in the keynote lecture by Professor FRANZ REIMER (Giessen; Der kulturelle Zugang zum Recht aus der Perspektive der Rechtstheorie und Methodenlehre). In his talk he described the intrinsic complexity of legal systems and the legal language, which have to cope with the omnipresence of change throughout all human experience. According to Reimer, this creates a fundamental problem for law, namely, how can law preserve its integrity over time, while managing to address the new historic and contemporary circumstances? How can law be both stable, id est reliable, and capable of growth at the same time? These questions may explain why law also has to be studied from the perspective of the humanities. Professor RUTH HERZ (Judicial Images as Narratives) argued in a similar way, but focused on the balance between the human being and the institution in the figure of the judge. In her talk she shared personal experiences as a member of the judiciary in Germany and therefore added an important, subjective perspective to the discussion.


Cultures of Law: Transgressing Concept


olson.jpgOn the other side and from a cultural-studies perspective, law was  analysed with regard to conceptual approaches from the humanities, as in Professor GRETA OLSON’s (Giessen) pivotal opening keynote address titled Mapping the Pluralist Character of Cultural Approaches to Law. Within her talk she elaborated on the concepts of “pluralities of law” which prepared the ground for many references during the conference. The concepts define the multiple frameworks and discourses in which law expresses itself: all of them should be taken into account to construct the broad semantic field of juridical knowledge. Amongst others, she discussed law in accordance with theoretical approaches on narratives, sovereignties, practices, languages, cultures, materialities, images and representations, genders, and performances.


Social, Cultural and Political Functions of Law


In the many parallel sessions, structured by an interesting diversity of methodologies (and languages, since a few of them were in German), one core issue of legal theory emerged, both implicitly and explicitly: the social, cultural, and political function of legal discourse in the regulation of life and of the complexities of reality.


moran.jpgEventually, the keynote lectures of JEANNE GAAKEER (Rotterdam; The Perplexity of Judges Becomes the Scholar’s Opportunity), LESLIE MORAN (London; What’s Mr Kipling’s Bakewell tarts got to do with it? Performing Gender as a Judicial Virtue in the Theatre of Justice), WERNER GEPHART (Bonn; Image-ing the Law: How 'Deontic Power' Enters the Canvas), and PETER GOODRICH (New York; Lucifugous Laws: Excavations of Visiocracy) opened the debate on the linguistic (Gaakeer) and visual (Moran, Gephart, Goodrich) hermeneutics of law in distinct historical and spatial contexts. Here the juridical and political goodrich.jpgdiscourse transmits a certain representation of the law by making it linguistically and aesthetically comprehensible (or obscure) to the public. In particular, Gaakeer clearly explained the problems related to the definition of the semantic limits of legal concepts, referring to Ricoeur, Hart, and the traditon of legal hermeneutics; Goodrich, Gephart, and Moran illustated the centrality of legal emblems and of depiction (both of legal “objects” and of non legal ones) for the construction of a new discourse on legal semiotics.


Particularities and Universalities of Law


The complementary perspective of law and cultural studies scholars enabled, so could one conclude, the tracing of the emergence of law within contemporary social discourses (both Western and non-Western); instead of just adding up certain definitions of “Law as…”, this incredibly rich conference provided new reflections on certain narratives, practices, languages, and cultures of law-related notions.


At the same time, the debate proved how legal discourse inherits in diverse spaces and contexts all these instances. In their function as instances of legal normativity, juridical norms incorporate the vast complexity of life and reality (social, cultural, and political). Or in the words of Guido Calabresi: Law feeds and is fed by the world around it. Fortunately, that world is at least as aptly described and understood by the humanities as by the social sciences. Hence, and also fortunately, it is impossible fully to understand law without a deep and sympathetic knowledge of the liberal arts.” ("Introductory Letter," Yale J. of Law & the Humanities: 1.1, 1989).


Law as “fait social”


fait_social.jpgThis kind of intellectual “spirit” characterized the conference in Giessen, where law was constantly treated as a complex social phenomenon, as a “fait social”, that can no longer be understood through a strictly dogmatic, disciplinary-bound way of thinking. At the same time it appears to be a courageous and groundbreaking method, since the actual law discourse (at least in continental Europe) tends to have an intrinsically specific and technical nature. The Law’s Pluralities conference opened up the field for a different trend both in the legal and in the humanistic scholarship – where law appears as one possible system of normativity which is neither detached from reality, nor unknowable in itself. Law might be concealed behind hyper-complex procedures and rituals, but it is made accessible through communicative and visual techniques, and in particular through language, literature, architecture, iconography, and more hidden forms of contemporary symbolism.


fait_social_2.jpgIn the way human life and reality are constructed through the tensions between forms and changes, legal normativity emerged in Giessen as one of the many possible forms of regulation of life and reality. The relation between law and the world is not in the least unilateral; it rather seems, and has been proven at this conference, that there is a reciprocal connection of constructing and reshaping. Recalling the words of J. B. White: “(…) law is not merely a system of rules (or rules and principles), or reducible to policy choices or class interests, but that it is rather what I call a language, by which I do not mean just a set of terms and locutions, but habits of mind and expectations – what might also be called a culture. It is an enormously rich and complex system of thought and expression, of social definitions and practices, which can be learned and mastered, modified or preserved, by the individual mind. The law makes the world. An the law in another sense (…) is a kind of cultural competence” (The Legal Imagination, Introduction, University of Chicago Press, 1973).


The conference was accompanied by an exhibition on “Law’s Pluralities” in cooperation with the NEUER KUNSTVEREIN GIESSEN. All participants had the chance to explore various artistic approaches by international artists, including IL-JIN CHOI, RAUL GSCHREY, MI YOU and MANU LUKSCH.



Conference Program

Wednesday, May 6, 2015:


Professor Ansgar Nünning Organizing Team: Opening and Greetings


Greta Olson (Justus-Liebig-Universität, Gießen): Mapping the Pluralist Character of Cultural Approaches to Law in Increasingly Pluralistic European Legal Cultures


Franz Reimer (Justus-Liebig-Universität, Gießen): Der kulturelle Zugang zum Recht aus der Perspektive der Rechtstheorie und Methodenlehre


Reception and Visit to the Exhibition “Law’s Pluralities”


Thursday, May 7, 2015:


Session 1: Law’s Pluralities


Keynote I

Rosemary J. Coombe (York University, Toronto): Neoliberalism and the ‘Proprietary’ Imagination: A Proliferation of Cultures ‘Before the Law’


German and Anglophone Paper Session I


Law’s Narratives I

Katrin Becker (Luxemburg, Paris): The Literary Voice of Law – A Perspective on Literature’s Entanglement with Normativity


Kaleen Gallagher (Cambridge): The Role of the Law in the Writing of Ingeborg Bachmann


Susanne Gruß (Erlangen-Nuremberg): “The detective: that is the role I am to play” – The Sensational Narratives of Law in Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013)


Law’s Pluralities: Citizenship and Sovereignty

Frans-Willem Korsten (Leiden): Beyond Apostasy: Dramatically Doing Justice to Struggle(s) between Dutch-Moluccans and the Dutch State


Marie Beauchamps (Amsterdam): Denaturalization’s Narratives and the Plurality of Nationality Law in France


Martin Ramstedt (Halle-Wittenberg): The Deontic Power of Origin Stories in Bali’s New Village Jurisdictions


Pluralitäten des Rechts

Helena Whalen-Bridge (Singapore): Party Narratives in Adversarial Systems: Partiality or Objectivity?


Ralf Seinecke (Frankfurt): Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man Rechtspluralismus?


Sarah Leyli Rödiger und Dana-Sophia Valentiner (Hamburg): „Living together“ – Rechtspluralistische Konflikte im Kontext religiöser und moralischer Normativität in der Rechtsprechung des EGMR


Keynote II

Anna-Bettina Kaiser (Humboldt-Universität, Berlin): Verfassungsvergleichung als Verfassungsinterpretation?


Session 2: Law’s Narratives


Keynote III

Jeanne Gaakeer (Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam): The Perplexity of Judges Becomes the Scholar’s Opportunity


Keynote IV

Andreas von Arnauld (Walther-Schücking-Institut für internationales Recht, Kiel): Norms and Narrative


Parallel German and Anglophone Paper Session II


Law’s Narratives

Angela Condello and Tiziano Toracca (Rome/Perugia and Ghent): Exemplarity as a Normative Form: Remarks Made between Law and Literature


Iben Engelhardt Andersen (Odense): Romeo and Juliet Are Sexting – Tragic Teens in Law and Literature


Stephanie Law (Montréal): Law as a Cultural Construct and the Narrative of Judicial Dialogue in the Europeanisation of Law: The CJEU’s Interpretation of the Consumer


Law’s Practices

Katja Stoppenbrink (Cologne, Paris): Respect for Children’s Well-being as an Evaluative Cultural Practice: Reconstructing German Jurisprudence and Legal Practice at the Interface of Descriptive Ethics and ‘Law as Culture’


Tara Mulqueen (London): Co-operation and the Laws of Ordering


Samuel Kirwan (Bristol): On Good Advice: The ‘Taking Place’ of Legal Consciousness within Citizens Advice


Ulrike Lembke (Hamburg): Gendered Sexualities in Public Spaces: Legal Discourses on Street Sex Work and Street Harassment


Narrative des Rechts

Susanne Krasmann (Hamburg): Imagining Insecurity: Über Gefühltes im Recht


Frederik von Harbou (Berlin): Von Rousseaus „Julie“ zum CNN-Effekt. Medial erzeugte Identifikation und ihre Bedeutung für die Menschenrechtsachtung


Sonja Arnold (Cologne): „Eu acredito, talvez até ingenuamente, no papel transformador da literatura.“ Die Diskrepanz zwischen geschriebenem Recht und Rechtspraxis und ihre mediale Repräsentation in Brasilien



Susanne Baer (Humboldt-Universität, Berlin): Speaking about Law: Current Challenges to the Protection of Fundamental Right


Friday, May 8, 2015:

Session 3: Law’s Cultures


Parallel German and Anglophone Paper Session III


Law’s Cultures

Ann Goldberg (Riverside): Culture and Politics in the Making of German Hate Speech Law


Ozan Kamiloglu (London): The Ethical Turn and New Aesthetics of Justice


Katharina Isabel Schmidt (New Haven): Unmasking “American Legal Exceptionalism”: German Free Lawyers, American Legal Realists and The Transatlantic Turn to “Liefe” 1903-1933


Law’s Materiality

Thomas Streeter (Burlington): Digitalization, Discourse Networks, and the Law: The Move to Online Legal Databases, 1980—2000


Neloufer de Mel (Colombo): The Life of the Death Certificate: The Law, Documental Regimes, and Gendering Justice in Post-War Sri Lanka


Yasco Horsman (Leiden): Legal Relics: On Films, Bones and Other Forensic Meta-evidence at the Hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Nuremberg Trials.


Kulturen des Rechts

Jan-Christoph Marschelke (Regensburg): Kulturtheoretische Analyse gerichtlicher Kulturtheorie


Jan Suntrup (Bonn): Personen, Dinge, Tiere, Unpersonen. Kulturspezifische Differenzierungen in rechtlichen Prozessen der Personifizierung


Keynote V

Ruth Herz (Birkbeck College, London): Judicial Images as Narratives


Parallel Anglophone Paper Session IV


Law’s Narratives: The US American Case (Silke Schmidt)

Sonja Schillings (Giessen): Rape, Murder and the Narrative Interpretation of Judicial Discretion in Richard Wright’s Native Son


Silke Braselmann (Giessen): “The verdict is the reader’s job” – The JCSO Columbine Documents in Multimodal School Shooting-Novels


Sabine N. Meyer (Osnabrück): From Domestic Dependency to Cultural Sovereignty: Representations of the Law in Postmodern Native American Literature


Law’s Genders and Sexualities

Barbara Kraml (Vienna): De/Legitimizing Juvenile Sexual Autonomy: Narratives of Love and Abuse


Katharina Zilles (Giessen), Alexander Larsen (Stockholm): Beholding the Child


Hsiao-tan Wang (Taipei): Law’s Gendering Practice in the Society of Law’s Pluralities in Chinese Culture


Law’s Images

Martin A. Kayman (Cardiff): Believing, Seeing, and Presence in Law


Giorgia Baldi (London): ‘Un-veil’ and ‘Re-veil’: The Symbology of the ‘Other’


Laura Sweeney (Canberra): Drawing Judgment: Law, Gender and Aboriginality in Political Cartoons of the High Court of Australia


Session 4: Law’s Sexualities/Genders


Parallel Paper Session V


Law’s Pluralities

Lando Kirchmair (Budapest): Descriptive vs. Prescriptive (Global) Legal Pluralism: A Gentle Reminder of David Hume’s Is–Ought Divide


Antonio Marzal Yetano (Fiesole): Legal Technology as Culture: Proportionality in EU Law


Ashley Sisco (Wollongong): The Legal Duty to Consult with Indigenous Communities in Canada: Legal Pluralism or Neo-colonialism?


Law’s Performances

Marett Leiboff (Wollongong): Theatrical Jurisprudence and the Imaginary Lives of Law in Pre-1945 Australia


Mi You (Cologne): Angels and Prophets on Trial: On Jelinek’s Das schweigende Mädchen


Scott Veitch (Hong Kong): Contesting Images of the Rule of Law in Hong Kong


Law’s Sexualities

Jen Higgins (London): Categories of Otherness: The Inclusion of LGBT Groups under Hate Speech Protections


Mikki Stelder (Amsterdam): Politics without Rights: Human Rights Discourse as Alibi and as Violence


Suncica Klaas: (W)Ri(gh)ting Wrongs: Human Rights and the Contemporary American Autobiography


Keynote VI

Konstanze Plett (Institute for Gender, Labour and Social Law, Bremen): Stories about Genus, Sex and Gender: Legal Exclusion through Linguistics


Keynote VII

Leslie J. Moran (Birkbeck College, London): What’s Mr Kipling’s Bakewell tarts got to do with it? Performing Gender as a Judicial Virtue in the Theatre of Justice


Saturday, May 9, 2015:

Session 5: Law’s Images


Parallel Independent Panels


Panel I Leiden: Monsters and Icons: Objectification in Law and Justice

Anna Köberich: From Monsters to Men – Entering a Dialogue with Perpetrators: The Possibility of Justice in the Case of The Act of Killing


Gerlov van Engelenhoven: Legal Closure and Cultural Re-opening: Exploring Bobby Sands’ Iconic Status


Inge’t Hart: Profiling the Monster: Visualizing Liminal Subjectivity and Forensic Practices in Popular US Television Series 7


Tessa de Zeeuw: Frightening Creatures and Pieces of Proof: Invoking the Theatricality of the Laboratory in Criminal Procedures – A Cross-Reading of Frankenstein and the Case of Lucia de B.


Panel II: Centre for Humanistic Legal Studies at the University of Bergen

Frode Helmich Pedersen: The Power of Narrative


Line Hjorth Buchholzer: The Significance of Archetypes in Courtroom Proceedings


Arild Linneberg: The Prosecutor as Judge: The Role of the Media in Miscarriages of Justice


Erling Aadland: Law and Outlaw in Some Bob Dylan Songs


Keynote VIII

Werner Gephart (Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn): “Image-ing the Law: How ‘Deontic Power’ Enters the Canvas”?


Keynote IX

Peter Goodrich (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York City): Lucifugous Laws: Excavations of Visiocracy


© bei der Autorin und bei KULT_online

Fotos: Danae Gallo González, Raul Gschrey & Silke Schmidt