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Law and Literature


Julia Shaw

Call for Papers

Abstracts may only be submitted via the Easy Chair system. They must be no longer than 300 words and must include your title, name and institutional affiliation and your email address for correspondence.

The deadline for the submissions is Monday 19 January 2015.

Literary texts are dynamic dramatic devices; their value is in the manner of presenting a story or acting out a conversation and they are not reducible to a specific purpose. As an expressive medium, science-fiction/horror/fantasy literature shares many similarities with law, not least of all the reinforcement of traditions, the creation and dispelling of myths and the construction of identity. The law-enforcing superhero is enjoying a renaissance not only in literary fiction and graphic novels but in the cinema and on TV. Particularly since 2000, genre-defining graphic fiction superhero Batman and the revisionary superheroes of Watchmen have been joined on the big screen by X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Superman and others in a raft of adaptations, reboots and crossover storylines; in The Dark Knight Returns Batman and Superman even engage in a final face-off. Portrayed variously as dysfunctional, rebel and outsider, the semi-altruistic superhero traditionally roots out corruption, fights for social change whilst at the same time questions the nature of morality and identity. Importantly, he conducts an ‘interrogation of law’s legitimacy’. Vampire, werewolf and zombie monster-subgenres have experienced a similar surge in popularity, supported by multi-season TV productions such as True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and The Walking Dead along with The Twilight Saga book-film series. As a transhuman or posthuman concept, the monster is understood in terms of its transcendence; existing beyond the divergent equivalence of human categories of difference such as race, gender, class, and outside of traditional binary oppositions such as good /bad, love/hate, rational/irrational. The monster is often a victim of circumstances beyond his control. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a consequence of the desire of his creator and becomes monstrous only when left to his own devices; then he becomes both terrifying and an appropriate object of pity, as abandoned and unloved. Like the superhero the monster is, above all else, an outsider.

For Bruno Latour the defining feature of modernity has been the production of monsters. Multiple threats of war, disease, environmental disaster, economic uncertainty and the spectre of technological singularity present monstrous ethical dilemmas compounding our collective sense of anxiety, which arguably demand a superheroic response from legal scholars. Presentations may consider the legal production of monsters (are they born or constructed) and/or the demonization of people and groups labelled monsters – those excluded individuals who fail to fit the category of ‘human’ and so are denied the full panoply of legal rights and protections afforded to others. The analogous relationship of law and the superhero might be explored from the perspective of feminist legal theory, or a critical ICT approach could examine the legal position of the posthuman / transhuman subject which, whilst not burdened by gender stereotyping, may unfairly privilege the non-human. The Marvel Comics Superhuman Registration Act, which allows the government to monitor the responsible use of super powers, raises serious ethical questions as well as peripheral issues relating to surveillance and privacy. As usual, papers and performances are also welcomed on any aspect of what is broadly-defined as law and literature.

For informal discussion please email the stream convenor, Dr Julia J.A. Shaw.

Session Programme (Papers and rooms are subject to change)

Tuesday: Session 1: Ramphal room 1.03

Session Title

Papers: Men of Violence, Men of Vision: John Davies and John Marston at the Middle

Temple - Paul Raffield.

Catastrophe and Systemic Violence: Richard Wright and the Mississippi Flood of 1927 - Philip Kaisary

Tuesday: Session 2: Ramphal room 1.03

Session Title

Papers: From homo economicus to homo roboticus: law and the posthuman - Julia J.A. Shaw

Remember Madness: Aesthetics of Justice on the Streets of Gotham - Thomas Giddens,

Exploring alternatives to Justitia with Eowyn and Niobe: on gender, race and the legal -

Patricia Branco