Legal Intersections Research Centre’s International Mentoring Workshops bear fruit: two special editions published

Inequality and Austerity after the Global Financial Crisis: Law, Gender and Sexuality
Oñati Socio-legal Series, v. 6, n. 1 (2016) ISSN: 2079-5971
Editors: Nan Seuffert and Anthea Vogl
Available at http://opo.iisj.net/index.php/osls/index

Gender, Time and Place: Intersections between Law and History
[2015] 2 law&history
Guest Editor: Terry Threadgold

An initiative of the LIRC, led by Director Prof Nan Seuffert, and co-sponsored by the International Institute for the Sociology of Law and the journal Social and Legal Studies in the UK, two scholarly international mentoring workshops for women academics were held in 2013 and 2014. The workshops brought together leading senior scholars in the law and society field from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand alongside promising early career researchers around two themes: Law, Gender, Sexuality: Inequality and Austerity after the Global Financial Crisis and Intersectional Analyses in Law: Time and Place. The workshops were intended to nourish socio-legal scholars and scholarship, deepen networks and contribute to ensuring sustainability of the field. Each senior academic chose an Early Career Researcher (ECR) whose attendance she sponsored for the workshop. Sponsorship included a commitment to mentoring ECRs in producing and refining an appropriate piece of academic work into a scholarly publication. Each presenter had forty-five minutes in which to develop her ideas and argument, with ample time to workshop the papers and draw out the common themes from what might seem initially to be disparate areas of research. ECRs had the opportunity to form international networks in their areas of expertise both at their own ECR level and with a group of leading senior academic women.

Inequality and Austerity after the Global Financial Crisis: Law, Gender and Sexuality

The first event, a Bilkura, or meeting, at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Onati Spain on the theme of Gender, Sexuality: Inequality and Austerity after the Global Financial Crisis included scholars from Kent University, Victoria University in Canada, the City University of New York, the University of New South Wales, Auckland University, UOW and others. The papers from the Bilkura have been published in the Onati Socio-legal Series. At the Bilkura, lively debate, critique and analysis considered the ways in which the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), increasing economic disparity and ‘austerity’ measures taken to respond to fiscal imbalances all impact on women and children, and particularly indigenous women and women of colour, as well as other vulnerable members of society, disproportionately. The tightening of welfare provision has been accompanied by increased surveillance and criminalisation of the poor, with a disproportionate impact on women and austerity and privatisation policies have heightened the volatility and contradictions in criminal justice policy. Amrita Kapur’s piece on the role of international norms in catalysing national prosecutions of sexual violence takes the deprioritisation of sex-based and gendered crimes as its point of departure. Kapur argues that the International Criminal Court’s norms and practice work to expose the gendered dimension of state criminal policy, and that such practice has the capacity to facilitate gender-sensitive responses to crime.

Perhaps paradoxically, at the same time as disproportionately disadvantaging women, fiscal stringency has been one of the factors driving a welcome and belated recognition of the unsustainable economic (and human costs) of penal expansion, a theme taken up in Julie Stubbs’ contribution on justice reinvestment and women’s imprisonment, ‘Downsizing Prisons in an Age of Austerity?’ Justice Reinvestment (JR) emerged in the US as a program intended to divert expenditures from the prison system to those communities that generate high numbers of prisoners, to fund services to provide support and supervision for offenders within the community and to prevent crime.

Further, subsequent to the GFC the proportion of wealth funnelled to the top one percent of the population has increased. Ninety three percent of the additional income generated in the United States in 2010 (over 2009) went to the top one percent; CEOs’ annual compensation was back up to pre-GFC levels of 243 times that of the typical worker by 2010, and the benefits of the financial recovery overwhelmingly accrued to the wealthiest Americans. Asta Zokaityte’s contribution on financial literary investigates the neo-liberal economic theory assumptions about individual financial responsibility underpinning the economic policies that led to the GFC. Zokaityte carefully examines the way in which the OECD’s literature on financial literacy fails to attend to gender inequalities produced by financial markets, misattributing irrational financial behaviour to so-called ‘vulnerable consumers’ and women. In particular, she examines the social and political implications of the techniques used to measure financial literacy, and exposes the major limitations of ‘the financial literacy project’ in tackling gender inequality and financial exclusion.

Anthea Vogl’s piece explores aspects of post-GFC austerity policies, highlighting ways in which procedural reforms in asylum seekers processes, presented as ‘cost-saving’ and efficiency measures, simultaneously construct asylum seekers as ‘abusing’ process and time-wasting. She documents the acceleration and truncation of refugee status determination mechanisms in Australia and Canada, which she argues function to exclude asylum seekers who cannot articulate ‘genuine’ asylum claims immediately and efficiently. Like the austerity measures discussed in other contexts, Vogl draws attention to the way in which the acceleration of refugee status determination in both jurisdictions disproportionately affects women and those alleging gender-based harms or violence.

The papers in this collection, taken together, make a case for attention to the gendered impact of current fiscal and social policy. They highlight the often unexpected or unpredictable effects of post-GFC policy at the same time as they reveal the predictable fact that women, indigenous and queer populations are those whom are frequently the most ‘punished’ by neoliberal and austerity reforms. This reinforces Jane Kelsey’s suggestion in her piece in the collection that feminist economic analysis must be ‘mainstreamed’ and integrated into political-economic policies in order to challenge, and even replace, the systemic effects and institutions of neoliberalism and austerity.

Gender, Time and Place: Intersections between Law and History

The second event, a workshop held at UOW on the theme of Gender, Time and Place: intersections between Law and History, resulted in a special edition of the journal Law & History, guest edited by Emerita Professor Terry Threadgold (Cardiff University), a well-known senior academic across disciplines in law and humanities, Visiting Professorial Fellow of the Legal Intersections Research Centre, and recently retired Pro Vice Chancellor STAFF and DIVERSITY at Cardiff University. Terry’s recent work includes innovative solutions addressing issues of gender, mentoring, promotion and career paths in the context of shrinking government funding and increasing pressures to publish and to demonstrate impact resulting from humanities research. Professor Threadgold opened the workshop with an address exploring the crucial role of mentoring and intelligent gender-sensitive leadership and management in developing innovative solutions to support women’s careers in the context of shrinking government funding and these increasing pressures.

This second workshop brought together early career and very senior scholars from Australia, New Zealand, USA and Wales and from the disciplines of History, Law, Cultural and Media Studies, Gender Studies and Social Analysis, and Maori Studies in order to nourish socio-legal scholarship, deepen its networks and ensure its sustainability. Nan Seuffert and the Legal Intersections Research Centre initiated and supported the symposium, Diane Kirkby as Editor of Law and History, provided editorial support and the opportunity for publication and Terry Threadgold, as editor of the Special Issue, worked for over a year to support the mentor/mentee pairs to develop the papers delivered at the workshop for publication.

The first three papers in the special issue, by Seuffert, Macdonald and Suszco, all deal with the complex intersections of gender and race in New Zealand, at different times and against the background of different and diverse histories and legal and regulatory contexts and regimes. All three papers also intersect in exploring the permeability of law to other discursive and institutional formations, and its changing and evolving nature in the context of overlapping and contradictory histories.

The next two papers appear to enter very different territory and to explore remarkably different gendered issues and realities. They deal respectively with rape and with abortion. However, the connections and the parallels with the first three papers emerge as soon as Quilter and Millar begin to unpack the elided and occluded histories of legal activism around these two issues and to re-locate and re-embed the law and its attempts at change in wider socio-cultural and historical contexts. Here, as in the New Zealand cases, histories continue to circulate across time and place and to have effects, performatively enacting gendered difference and gendered harm despite activism and attempts at legal change and reform. Millar’s conclusion that shame and shaming exceed the scope of the law, regulating conduct from outside legal processes in ways which ‘powerfully naturalise … normative values, practices and beliefs’, recalls Quilter’s conclusion about the complex intersections between legal reform, conflicting and ‘jostling’ histories, and the embodied knowledges, attitudes and beliefs that the law cannot control or contain. It also anticipates the work of the final two papers in this collection.

Vines’ paper uses a case study, the experience of a postmistress in Australia in the 1880s and 1890s, to demonstrate and explore the ways in which the NSW Married Women’s Property Acts, regarded as significant acts of legal reform, which came into force in 1879 and 1893, and should have had considerable impact on the way married women were treated, failed to support this particular woman, or to change the way her life unfolded, because the law in this case ‘had little purchase against the dominant cultural ideas and regulations of the Public Service’.

Kirkby’s paper also uses a case study, focusing on the experience of a feminist journalist and peace activist, Jennie Scott Griffiths, a U. S. citizen who was active in Australia around the time of World War One (1914–1918). The paper revisits and reframes in new and different legal and historical contexts the gender difference and positionings available to women at the time, exploring the spatial and temporal frame within which women’s opposition to war occurred. Kirkby’s exploration of the ‘terrain of challenges women navigated’ at this time provides a fitting conclusion to the special issue, drawing together as it does, so many of the intersectionalities of law and history across gender, time, race and place which the papers collectively and cumulatively explore.

In these ways then, the completed and published special issue also continues, and accomplishes, the work of the workshop which engendered it, drawing a number of parallels between feminist historical biographies across law, space and history, race and gender, and the continuing position of women within the global academy with which the workshop began.

Professor Nan Seuffert

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *