The COVID-19 pandemic already has had a vast array of legal implications which have dramatically altered daily life. While liberal, universal rights such as liberty and privacy are being radically curtailed in the name of public health, legal responses impact upon populations in radically unequal ways. These dimensions include - but certainly are not limited to - race, gender, disability, vulnerability and social class. Legal interventions are consistently justified on the basis of science, which is assumed to be unequivocal and beyond debate. At the same time, resistance to legal action is also apparent, as rumours and conspiracy theories - like the virus itself - multiply around the globe. At the same time as public policy measures are introduced, systems of legal regulation and compliance (which were often themselves justified on the basis of public protection) are modified or suspended in the name of necessity, with no indication as to when or how they will be restored. Moreover, the relationship between law and discretion has been reshaped, and this in turn has impacted upon individuals and communities.
The aim of this series is to seek to ‘make sense’ of the wide ranging relationship between law and the pandemic through the insights of the humanities, broadly understood as the set of cultural influences which are shaping the use of law and the responses to it. Sarah Churchwell argues that ‘as this pandemic is so brutally reminding us, nothing in our society occurs in a vacuum. Everything occurs in a historical, political, economic, and cultural context, and the humanities is in the business of understanding context’. As Churchwell observes, ‘the pandemic has stripped away all our usual contexts, and in so doing it has made much more visible, and much more urgent, what it is that we do when we need to be human’.
Law is a vitally important component of that context and it warrants close attention. It forms an integral part of the challenge of ‘being human’ and, in turn, law can be illuminated through a turn to the humanities, whether it be history, political theory, literary analysis, philosophy, gender studies, film theory or cultural studies (and that list is far from exhaustive).
In an effort at understanding the context of the pandemic, scholars at all career stages and across disciplinary boundaries are invited to contribute to a series of ‘work in progress’ seminars at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies during the 2020-21 academic year. Given the uncertain and changed times for knowledge production (like all other forms of production), the format for the presentations will be flexible - remote, ‘live’, or some combination - depending upon the circumstances that we face. Innovative and experimental forms of presentation can be accommodated. Scholars from all parts of the world are welcome to contribute. Those located in the Global South are particularly encouraged, especially given the way in which the pandemic has (once again) privileged knowledge, expertise and experience from the Global North.
The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies is itself part of the School of Advanced Study, which unites nine internationally renowned institutes in the humanities at the centre of the University of London. Together it forms the UK's national centre for the support of researchers and the promotion of research in the humanities.
A special issue proposal is planned for the publication of the output of the series. Preliminary interest has been expressed by the Editor of the Institute’s online, open access journal, Amicus Curiae. The Institute also has the capacity to publish the special issue as a hard copy volume with the University of London Press.
Anyone interested in contributing is invited to contact the Director of the Institute, Professor Carl Stychin, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. A title and abstract for proposed contributions should be submitted to the Director by 30th June 2020. The seminars will be scheduled throughout the 2020-21 academic year.
Sarah Churchwell, ‘Being Human Under Lockdown’, https://beinghumanfestival.org/being-human-under-lockdown/