LIRC 2018: Visiting PhD Scholar Presentations


9:30am – 12:15pm, 4 December 2018 LHA Research Hub (Building 19, Room 2072) University of Wollongong

Proudly supported and hosted by LIRC, the ‘Visiting Scholar’ program provides an opportunity to bring exceptional PhD students to UOW to disseminate their research. This year, three PhD students have been selected to present.

9:30am-10:20am – Aileen Kennedy (University of Technology Sydney), Thesis Title: ‘Regulating the Body of the Cerebral Subject’


Aileen Kennedy is a legal academic at the School of Law, University of New England, Armidale. Her research is in the area of health law, with particular emphasis on the law relating to the body and body modifications. She is interested in examining law and medicine’s contribution to how sex and gender are constructed and regulated. She is committed to supporting human rights for intersex people, in the face of ongoing medicalisation and unnecessary medical interventions. One focus of her research is on legal and ethical issues relating to biotechnological innovation such as assisted reproductive technology, genetics and neuroscience. She is interested in feminist theory, particularly theories of embodiment. Aileen is currently undertaking a PhD in law at UTS, Sydney. Her thesis looks at the influence of neuroscience in regulating sex and gender medical interventions on children.


My thesis is shaped around a central question of how the shift to a neurological approach to sexed identity will impact on the legal regulation of body-shaping medical treatment. This question is explored by examining the approach in law and medicine to medical procedures performed on minors to transform their body to align to a sex or gender.

The aim of the thesis is to shed light on a particular facet of judicial, legal and medical regulation of sex and gender. The core thesis is that the concept of brain sex has signalled and/or produced a significant shift in how both medicine and law understand transgender identities and needs. For transgender minors, gender identity is constructed as innate, fixed, rigid and utterly resistant to change because it is grounded in neurobiology. By contrast, the concept of brain sex has remained largely buried in discourse on intersex minors. Gender identity is constructed as simultaneously resilient and fragile. The discourses assume that gender identity can be undermined, ruined or eroded by inappropriate physical or psychological influences, justifying the need for urgent medical intervention to cure ambiguity and uncertainty.

Presentation Title: Sexing the body of the cerebral subject

My thesis explores the extent to which the shift to a neurological (or ‘brain-based’) understanding of personhood is permeating legal and medical regulation of sex and gender. This question is explored through the lens of legal regulation of medicine performed on children to shape their bodies to express a particular sex or gender. Until last year, transgender children were unable to access medicine to shape their bodies to correlate with their gender identity unless they obtained approval of the Family Court. Although that changed for most minors in 2017 with Re Kelvin, treatment for some children still requires court authorisation. My thesis explores the court’s developing understanding of gender identity development. I argue that the cases on children with gender dysphoria reflect and embed an understanding of gender identity development as neurobiological in origin, which is seen as innate and inexorable.

By contrast the legal cases authorising medical interventions on intersex children, aimed at ‘normalising’ the sexed appearance of their ‘ambiguous’ bodies, reflect a confused and contradictory understanding of gender identity development. In these cases, gender is sometimes conceptualised as fixed, innate and inexorable and sometimes as fragile, changeable and unstable. Often both conceptions are expressed in a single case – sometimes in a single paragraph.

In this presentation I will speculate that the different treatment of intersex children reflects an instrumental approach whereby medical interventions are justified by reference to whatever arguments are convenient or plausible rather than a genuine concern for likely gender identity development.


10:20-11:10 – Sean Mulcahy (Monash University, and the University of Warwick), Thesis title: ‘Law as performance: Towards a performative jurisprudence’


Sean graduated with a Bachelor of Performing Arts (Hons) and Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from Monash University and is currently undertaking a joint PhD on law and theatre at Monash University and the University of Warwick.

His research interest is in law as performance. More specifically, his work examines the particular elements of legal performance – set, script, audience, sight and sound – across different international settings.

Sean also works as a freelance actor, director and theatre producer. He has performed in the Midsumma, Melbourne Fringe and Adelaide Fringe Festivals and at the Malthouse Theatre, Arts Centre and La Mama. He is a proud member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.


My PhD project considers how the practices of law are affected by performance, which is usually thought of as being outside the realm of law. Drawing upon theatre scholarship, my project explores legal texts alongside the other performative dimensions of law: set, dress, voice, audience and digital dimensions. My project utilises performance studies methodologies commonly applied to theatre in order to undertake this inquiry.

I look beyond typical legal approaches to understand better the ways in which the (performance of) law is perceived by and affects outside audiences. In doing so, my project seeks to expose the gaps and limitations inherent in conventional accounts of the law, including critical legal accounts. My research, which includes elements of performance as research, is a unique integration of the theoretical with the practical, and conventional legal research approaches with techniques derived from theatre and performance studies.

Presentation Title: Singing the Law: The Musicality of Legal Performance

What would the law sound like if it was sung?

At the turn of this century, Balkin and Levinson (1999) reconceptualised law as a performing art. Whilst scholars have explored the relation between music and law (Ramshaw 2013), focus on the acoustic dimension of law is relatively new. Taking as my starting point James Parker’s Acoustic Jurisprudence (2015), I seek to explore the musicality of law in both legal and parliamentary settings.

The use of the term ‘legal performance’ (Rogers 2008) bewrays my interdisciplinary approach, bringing my background in theatre to bear on the performance of law. Exploring music within legal performance and musical remixes of legal transcripts, I argue that there is a latent musicality to legal speech and that the musical rhythm of the law attunes the listener to the legal performance (Dawson 2014).

The paper will feature samplings of music in and inspired by legal performance to examine the notion of latent musicality within legal speech and the idea that legal speech works best when it appeals to its audience in the way that music appeals to its audience in terms of rhythm, modulation, pitch, etc.


11:25-12:15 – Tobias Smith (University of California, Berkley), Thesis Title: ‘The Contradictions of Chinese Capital Punishment’


I am now a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. I also hold a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. I study the conditions under which punishment is restrained or diverted under various penal regimes. My dissertation, The Contradiction of Chinese Capital Punishment, focuses on the case of death penalty reform. My current research combines two threads in my biography. The first thread is a life-long engagement with China. I initially visited China in 2000 and have resided there for a total of about five years on and off since then. The second thread is an abiding concern with the US turn towards mass incarceration. I have worked for a variety of organizations monitoring US prison conditions and advocating for the welfare of incarcerated people in the US and China. My work has been published in Punishment & Society.


My dissertation, The Contradictions of Chinese Capital Punishment, is a mixed-method study of death penalty reform that explains why an otherwise punitive regime has curtailed the use of capital punishment. China remains far and away the world’s leading executioner state. Yet over the last decade China has also become the world’s leader in reducing executions. Even as Chinese politics has taken a more authoritarian turn, the state has supported the judiciary in instituting a process of death penalty review that has drastically diminished capital sentences. Why has an increasingly illiberal government endorsed courts in reducing punishment? My research demonstrates that rather than promoting judicial independence or due process, death penalty reform in China instead increases central supervision of lower court activity. As the central government struggles to control local administrators, the state’s focus in enacting reform is not defendants, but the state’s own agents. My dissertation is based on 18 months of fieldwork in four provinces across China. I draw on primary Chinese-language sources and court records. I also use an original data set of more than 70 semi-structured interviews I personally conducted in Chinese with a variety of stakeholders, including 43 lawyers who have handled capital cases.

Presentation Title: Partial Disclosure: Secrecy and Transparency in Chinese Death Penalty Decisions

For decades China has reputedly executed more people every year than any other nation on earth. The exact figure, however, is a closely guarded state secret. Beginning in 2007 China’s Supreme People’s Court overhauled the country’s death penalty procedure. How do we assess the impact of this reform?  Previous scholarship has suggested that the annual rate of execution—which remains unknown—would provide an indication of the reform’s success. On this view, the number is a dependent variable measuring the reform’s impact. This paper takes a different approach. I consider the fact of secrecy around the death penalty as an influence on death penalty reform. On this view, secrecy is an independent variable. I ask: what are the effects of secrecy on death penalty reform? I draw on over 70 interviews I conducted with legal personnel in China to show how national secrecy concerning annual executions shapes reforms in three areas of death penalty law and policy: case transparency, legal representation and due process. My findings provide new insights into the process of legal reform in authoritarian regimes and show how restrictions on quantification metrics can impact courts.

Attendance is free, and catering will be provided. Please register your attendance at the below website: HTTPS://WWW.SURVEYMONKEY.COM/R/WJN7C6X













Visiting Phd Scholar Program – Call for Applications 2018

The Legal Intersections Research Centre (LIRC) at the University of Wollongong (UOW) invites applications from PhD students enrolled at other universities to visit LIRC for a minimum period of two weeks in 2018.

LIRC engages in interdisciplinary scholarship across law, society and culture with a focus on public interest law and social justice. LIRC academic members come from law as well as diverse disciplines including media and cultural studies, business and forensic mental health. LIRC members’ current research relates to six themes:
 Contesting Vulnerability;
 Crime and Society;
 Legal Transpositions;
 Law and Popular Cultures;
 Social Justice and Global Forces;
 Legal Ethics, Culture, Practice and Professionalism.

The Visiting PhD Scholar Program aims to support high quality interdisciplinary PhD research in LIRC’s areas of research, to provide opportunities to PhD scholars from other universities to be involved in LIRC’s research activity and to support PhD scholars to form ongoing networks with LIRC academic and higher degree research (HDR) members. LIRC will award one visiting PhD scholarship in 2018 up to $1500 to cover the cost of travel to Wollongong and assist with living expenses in Wollongong during the program. Visiting PhD scholars will have office space with a computer, printing and copying facilities and borrowing privileges at the UOW library.

Visits in 2018 will be scheduled in early December to maximise the opportunity for interaction with LIRC members and HDRs, and to align with the LSAANZ and
Law and History Conferences to be held at UOW. Visiting PhD scholars are expected to be present on campus during the period of their visit in order to conduct their PhD research, participate in LIRC’s research activity, present their research at a lunchtime LIRC research seminar and be available for discussion of their research with LIRC academic and HDR members and UOW law honours students.

Applications should include the following:
 A curriculum vitae of no more than three pages, including name, previous degree/s, home institution and faculty, enrolment profile (fulltime, part-time, planned completion)
supervisors, and, as applicable, scholarship/s, publications and/or conference
presentations, and work background.
 A one page summary including the title, aims, overview, structure, chapter titles, and
current status of the PhD research project.
 A one page explanation of the alignment between the applicant’s PhD project and LIRC research, with reference to the current research projects of one or more members of  LIRC, and how the applicant and their PhD will benefit from the visit to LIRC.
 Confirmation that the applicant is available to visit in the first two weeks of December, 2018.
 A reference, preferably from the applicant’s Principal PhD Supervisor.

Applications close: Monday, 28 May, 2018
Enquiries: Yvonne Apolo,


The Legal Intersections Research Centre invites applications from PhD students enrolled at other universities to visit LIRC for a minimum period of two weeks in 2017. The Visiting PhD Scholar Program aims to support high quality interdisciplinary PhD research in LIRC’s areas of research, to provide opportunities to PhD scholars from other universities to be involved in LIRC’s research activity and to support PhD scholars to form ongoing networks with LIRC academic and higher degree research (HDR) members. One visiting PhD scholarship of up to $1500 to cover the cost of travel to Wollongong and assist with living expenses in Wollongong during the program will be awarded. For further information on how to apply and for enquires: see LIRC’s webpage.

‘Writing Out Loud’: PhD Students Present their Diverse Research in a Works in Progress Seminar

In their extensively published Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students, Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardner recommend that students should ‘write and show as (they) go.’ They urge students to write, and write early, and to obtain feedback on their writing by ‘putting it out there.’   Six current PhD students in the Law School at UOW recently heeded this sage advice, and took the opportunity to present their work at a LIRC Works in Progress Seminar, ‘Writing Out Loud’.


Yvonne Apolo, PhD candidate, sessional lecturer and co-convenor of ‘Writing out Loud’

Students were given a fairly wide brief in terms of what aspect of their research they chose to present, and represented the entire gamut of the PhD experience, from students who had recently commenced their PhD, to those who were nearing completion of their thesis. This meant that the approach taken to the presentations, and the material presented, varied considerably. Some presented material which they were intending to publish, others discussed issues concerning methodology and ethics, and others presented case studies which pertained to their research. Ultimately, presentation topics were arranged to mimic the flow of a thesis and this provided participants with a real sense of writing a PhD ‘out loud’.


Sandy Noakes, PhD candidate, sessional lecturer and co-convenor of ‘Writing out Loud’


Fabienne Else, PhD candidate

Kicking off the afternoon was Career Development Fellow, Sandy Noakes, who elaborated upon the background and impetus for her PhD research into the provision of writing support for undergraduate law students in Australia. Sandy shared her findings in relation to whether Australian law schools follow the Good Practice Guide when it comes to writing support, and welcomed the opportunity to receive feedback on a potential publication idea. Also sharing preliminary research findings, was PhD student Fabienne Else whose thesis explores whether the recently implemented criminal sentencing option, called ‘Intensive Correction Orders’ (ICOs), reflects the sentencing needs of indigenous offenders in NSW. Fabienne had recently utilised the computer program NVIVO to expose the intentions of the policymakers behind the introduction of ICO legislation as well as the nature of the subsequent reception of this legislation by various stakeholders. Participants appreciated the insight Fabienne provided into the use of NVIVO to conduct thematic analysis.


Kate Tubridy, PhD candidate & sessional lecturer

Expanding upon methodological approaches, PhD student and Sessional Lecturer, Kate Tubridy, explained the unique method she has developed in order to explore understandings of criminal justice on complex and dynamic digital media platforms. In her thesis, Kate examines the manner in which social media responses to specific crimes interact with the Australian criminal justice system, and her talk shed light on the need for a nuanced, computer-mediated approach to critical discourse analysis.


Rajendra Grimier, PhD candidate

Following an afternoon tea break, PhD student and Nepali lawyer, Rajendra Ghimire, shared his experiences of performing field work and collecting primary data in Nepal. In his thesis, Rajendra investigates the efficacy of Traditional Justice Systems (TJS) in Nepal, which exist alongside the formal justice system, and examines whether such TJS are providing a fair system that accords with human rights principles. During this seminar, Rajendra was able to report on some of the findings he has obtained whilst commencing the process of data analysis.


Ryan Kernaghan, Phd candidate & sessional lecturer


Sarah Wright, PhD candidate & sessional lecturer

The last two presenters for the evening spoke of the manner in which they have deployed their respective methodologies through the use of case studies; albeit in very different ways. In his thesis, PhD student and Sessional Lecturer, Ryan Kernaghan, draws upon opera studies in developing a ‘radical operatic’ methodology, which he then uses to examine the judicial approach of former High Court Justice Lionel Murphy. Ryan shared with participants his experiences in choosing and carrying out case studies, and spoke of the manner in which his operatic methodology highlights limitations in extant methods of judicial interpretation. Continuing on with this theme, Sarah Wright, also a PhD student and Sessional Lecturer, discussed her use of case studies and shared her key findings in relation to a particular case study of (a rather interesting) serial waste offender. Sarah’s PhD research examines some of the main components of NSW pollution law and how they are implemented in practice by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA). In this talk, Sarah elucidated the manner in which such case studies impact the image of the NSW EPA as an effective regulator.


LIRC Visiting PhD Scholar, Laura Peterson (University of Melbourne)

All in all, this Works in Progress seminar showcased some of the interesting and diverse img_7943HDR research currently being undertaking within the Law School and provided students with an opportunity to share their work with, and receive excellent feedback from, LIRC’s then Visiting PhD Scholar, Laura Peterson (University of Melbourne). The students who participated identified a number of benefits of such an event. For some, it provided an important deadline to finish an aspect of their research. For others, it was an opportunity to obtain feedback on a particular methodological approach. Others used it as an opportunity to polish and refine work intended for the more formal atmosphere of a conference.


Yvonne Apolo, always with the insightful feedback.

Overall, ‘Writing Out Loud’ fostered a sense of community amongst the students, who appreciated the opportunity to ‘write and show’ in a safe and collegial environment… and, of course, this was all capped-off with an enjoyable dinner, generously supported by LIRC!

Publications and Presentations: LIRC’s second HDR workshop explores the rich landscape of academic publishing

IMG_2843For HDR students, the prospect of publishing their research can feel daunting and overwhelming – ‘Where should I publish?’, ‘When should I publish – during or after my PhD?’, ‘What makes a good article?’ ‘How do I publish my work’? LIRC’s second HDR workshop, which was held on Friday, 6 May 2016, tackled these questions. Following on from LIRC’s successful inaugural HDR workshop on methodology held in February, LIRC academics once again shared their knowledge and experience with HDR students.

The workshop began with Professor Nan Seuffert discussing the complex issues of journal and university rankings, and the challenges that law scholarship faces in a citation based system. She also encouraged HDR students to think about what their research goal is and which audience they want to reach when selecting where to publish. ProIMG_1571fessor Elena Marchetti suggested that students talk to others in their research field about where to publish and to survey potential publication journals for content and methodology similar to their own – and not to be too upset if they receive negative review comments! She made the important point that a journal with low citations does not mean that it is not well-regarded. Dr Luis Gomez Romero provided a fascinating analogy of ‘academic excellence’ and a story about a play called the ‘Stage of Wonders’, which was similar to the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. He also suggested that HDR students only publish in English-speaking journal as unfortunately non-English speaking journals don’t seem to be recognised, despite their rich history and impact. Associate Professor Marett Leiboff spoke of her experience as a journal reviewer and advised that there are three common flaws to avoid when submitting articles for publication – (1) Unconnected, disparate, unsustained and incoherent ideas loosely linked to form a ‘thought bubble’ – (2) Inadequate or insufficient research and (3) A failure to understand the purpose of the journal.

After morning tea, Associate Professor Julia Quilter discussed her experience in publishing on Open Access Journals and Social Media, particularly Twitter. She pointed out how publishing on platforms outside of peer-reviewed journals enables your research to be read by a broader audience and therefore, to have a greater impact, which is increasingly becoming an important part of academic research.. Dr Niamh Kinchin agreed with this and spoke about building a ‘cyber-network’ with your publications. Dr Kinchin showed students how she uses Twitter and blogging and also explained the range of online repositories of publications such as Google Scholar. Dr Cassandra Sharp guided students through the various funding options available to HDR students for research-related activities and presenting at conferences.

IMG_2845The final panel after lunch shared their personal achievements and challenges in publishing their work. Dr Gabriel Garcia warned students of the ‘Author-pay’ model journals and predatory publishers. Dr Garcia also explained the range of assistance available from the UOW library such as Journal Impact Reports, which students found very interesting. Dr Felicity Bell advised students to think carefully about their field of research and where they are going to publish so as to make sure that their ‘article has a home in the publishing world!’ She also encouraged students to have confidence in their work. Dr Niamh Kinchin provided a personal experience of publishing twice during her PhD. She also explained how she has recently secured a contract for a book publication which is due for completion in 2017. Whilst her book is not a direct replication of her thesis, it draws substantially from its themes and research.

LIRC’s second HDR seminar was very dynamic and informative. It provided HDR students with a wide range of views and demonstrated that the answers to students’ publications questions such as ‘Where to publish?’ and ‘When to publish?’ really depends on their particular field, the audience they want to reach and their research goals. We look forward to the next LIRC HDR workshop!

HDR Candidate Kate Tubridy and Dr Niamh Kinchin

Which methodology? – LIRC’s Inaugural HDR Workshop Tackles Questions of Methodology Choice for Law Graduates


IMG_7287Learning methodology can be like learning a new discipline for law graduates. We often understand methodology as analysis and interpretation of cases and legislation via the doctrinal method, the ‘legal method’ that holds an interpretive monopoly for lawyers. Yet when we come to do our PhD in intersectional research, when we are confronted with a need to engage in research involving people, we are asked which methodological practice we will be using. It is a question that is commonly met with a blank star, panic and a furtive search through sociology text books.

In LIRC’s inaugural HDR seminar, which was held on Thursday 18 February 2016, LIRC academics shared their knowledge of methodology with HDR students, as well their own experiences of completing a PhD. Associate Professor Marett Leiboff spoke of the need to consider how we choose methodology, which she referred to as giving ‘logic’ and ‘structure’ to the thesis and explained how as a framework it explains and justifies our PhD. Dr Felicity Bell shared her ‘methodology confession story’, recalling how her enthusiasm for empirical research was tempered by her struggle to find a random sample of interviewees and the uncomfortable realisation that her subjects were not always telling her the whole truth. Dr Cassandra Sharp emphasised the importance of understanding empirical methodology as two distinct stages  –  the gathering of the data and the analysis – that required different things. She said she spent a whole summer consuming text books on methodology from other traditions and whilst that was a difficult process, it gave her a strong appreciation of how legal analysis can be enriched by other traditions. Professor Nan Seuffert warned of making assumptions about theory and elaborated on how she developed a feminist empirical methodology that foregrounded the views of women victims of violence over the professional experts. Confronted with the initial fears of analysis of pages of interview data, she cited a reassuring quote to remember, “Give me a four line quote [from interview data] and I can write an article”. In other words, much can come from little. The end of the session involved an enlightening discussion about the reality of methodology, which is that much of it is hybrid, evolves as the PhD does and doesn’t always have a name.

After an engaging session on ethics by Professor Colin Thomson, where the ethically dubious practices of past researchers were described, a Q&A-style panel of LIRC academics shared their own experiences of completing their PhD. Brett Heino, who has just submitted his thesis for examination, spoke of the importance of publishing through his thesis, his disastrous foray into EndNote and how his disciplined approach to writing helped him complete his thesis. Dr Niamh Kinchin spoke of her experience of receiving very different reviews by her examiners and how she dealt with that, both practically and emotionally. Dr Linda Steele recalled her positive experience with a collegiate PhD community and the importance of building an intellectual community through conferences and academic associations. And finally, Professor Elena Marchetti gave a hilarious power point presentation that was titled ‘Living wth Phd’, which re-imagined a PhD as an illness that needed both a diagnosis and a cure.

Finally, HDR students brainstormed events for the year, including a workshop on publishing and a works in progress day.

IMG_7289LIRC’s inaugural HDR seminar was engaging, informative, collegial and a great opportunity for feedback from HDR students. Hopefully it is the first of many.