I attended the UCC-hosted graduate workshop entitled Subjects Before the Law: Membership, Recognition and the Religious Dimensions of Women’s Citizenship on September 9th. I was one of 9 speakers and while I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t the only hand-waving cultural theory obsessive, I wasn’t surprised by the sense of welcome. This was a workshop that was well-organised and thoughtful and on topics that can divide people. It’s not easy bringing together people from Hong Kong and the Nordic countries but Mairead Enright and Eoin Daly did a very good job of it. There was a good balance of formality and frivolity which I think sometimes confounded the guest speaker, Lois McNay. This was enhanced by a charming and fundamental disagreement between Eoin and Mairead on how we think about what rules mean.
Those gathered talked about female genital mutilation to what constitutes a legal decision to Iranian feminism. There was little sense of people protecting their ideas, which is so often the downfall of a small and intense gathering like this. Naturally of course there were pints, world-altering discussion over same and large unhealthy breakfasts afterwards. I met some terrific scholars including Ryan Hill (an engineer/philosopher from England who fixes Norwegian buses and milks cows), Dorota Gozdecka (a Polish law graduate currently living in Finland who loves Murphy’s) and Esra Demir (who emails Talal Asad questions and later sent me an e-book called Women With Mustaches).
Puja Kapai came from Hong Kong and contributed a legal looking-glass to my theoretical noodlings with great patience and not a little insight. Roja Fazaeli was a former colleague several lifetimes ago and it was lovely to meet her again. I hope that we can all stay in contact, given the stages of our respective research projects and interests. If there had been more workshop time for discussion between us as contributors it would have been better but that is not an infrequent complaint about academic conferences. We received another contributor’s paper for examination in advance and then the remaining papers earlier that week so we got a taste of what our interests were. This might have facilitated a more discursive, thematic format.
Two features of the workshop stand out for me, now at this distance. All of the contributors I spoke with had some experience of migration in their family background or had experienced it directly. There is something about the dis- and re-location of migration that jolts you out everyday experience and allows you to turn back and reflect. I too am a migrant of a sort, but each of the insights I received from my fellow contributors during the day brought this to mind. Migration might well be a fundamental human experience alongside eating and sexuality but states and their legal ‘systems’ bound that experience, confine it to something aberrant. The state seeks to ‘fix’ us.
Additionally, and perhaps less profoundly, the law and our experiences of it is only as legitimate as the places that it is exercised. The performance of our subjectivity (identity if you want but not for me, thanks) often and intelligibly cuts across places and the boundaries of state law. Law does not always enable what we might call rights but its disabling force creates a symbolic violence that is placed somewhere. The context for this disablement is as significant as the time of its implementation but the disablement itself is rarely fixed in place. Legal systems transcend geographic scales but in doing so bring about local geographies of abuse and intolerance.
Dorota asked me in the pub: what does it feel like to be Irish? After some time and deep draughts, it is probably mostly about indeterminacy. It was lovely to be back in Cork, the home of my childhood, and it felt good to show people around.