Podcasts: Law, Art, Politics
2020 was an emblematic year in which forces that have been bubbling under the surface across all aspects of society intensified dramatically into identifiable events. The dramatic imagery of Australia’s bushfire crystallised for many that the ravages of climate change have already arrived. The novel coronavirus – a long predicted and perhaps inevitable threat stemming from the expansion of human industry and urban density – changed the way we work, travel and be amongst one another. Long withheld reckonings with racial justice in colonial states could no longer be contained.
Great art has often emerged at times when opposing social and ideological forces intensify into conflict. Picasso’s Guernica is a moving portrait of a world being broken apart by fascism. Its stark tableau of figures and animals in great distress continues to move audiences and to draw attention to what is missing in the official propaganda of war – a consideration of the dignity of the ‘ordinary’ masses swept into its maw. Art emerges from specific contexts but their experimentation with forms can also prefigure new ways of representing, seeing, writing and speaking that builds possible bridges between one era and the next. In this way, art is both a commentary on its time and place and the beings that occupy it, and a vision of some other world and ways of being yet-to-come. Because of the potential for novel forms and relations, art contains politics.
What then of law? Will the existing categories of law be adequate to the task of governing the future? How have aesthetics, law and politics interacted at various moments in order to build new worlds and ways of being? Has their ability to do so been disrupted by contemporary forces siloing the public sphere, neoliberalism’s impact on institutions including universities and the means of dissemination of art, and the sense of helplessness in the face of corporate power and climate change?
The podcasts collected here feature interviews with established and emerging scholars whose work covers law, art, Aboriginal history and philosophy. In different ways and forms, working in traditional academic modes and breaking out of convention to re-enliven the role of the public intellectual and of the artist-scholar, they all engage with critical questions on how the legal canon produces knowledge. What are the priorities, hierarchies and logics of the dominant legal systems that are implicated with capital, colonialism and climate change? What is the role of the university and of legal education amidst these forces? How could living lawfully with each other and the lands and waters around us look different? What possibilities do other frames of thinking about the law offer?
Law, Art, Politics is produced and hosted by Justine Poon, Lecturer in Law and Society at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. Her doctoral work at the Australian National University is on the power of images and language in shaping the legal category of the refugee. She is interested in developing interdisciplinary and creative methodologies to ask critical questions about law and society.
Professor Margaret Thornton has been at the forefront of feminist and critical research on law and the legal profession for many decades with her work spanning investigations into discrimination law and the contours of the legal profession. More recently, she has been conducting an examination into the effects of neoliberal policies on the university, including its impacts upon the teaching, learning and researching of law.
In this interview, Professor Thornton talks about the history and impact of the forces surrounding the commodification of university degrees and at the law school in particular. She discusses the value of a critical and creative legal education as something that students desire and which equips them in being more engaged citizens and lawyers. The metrics that law schools and universities are measured by tend to flatten all difference and value into a simple figure of elite reproduction and discourages scholarship that is attentive to the laws and conditions of the local communities that the university should serve.
This interview was recorded on 16 September 2020.
Further episodes to follow.