Sensing the Law
The Canadian Initiative in Law, Culture, and Humanities (CILCH) is calling for contributions to an interdisciplinary edited collection on law and the senses. The book will emerge from a collaborative process that includes a workshop meeting of all authors in February 2013.
Sensing the Law addresses the numerous interfaces between law and the senses. While law is often presented as disembodied and abstract, the senses refer to the embodied, messy, and fleeting qualities of human life. The collection asks not only how law makes sense of the senses, but also how law is made sense of through vocabularies of sensory perception. The senses are mobilized in relationship to legal institutions in a variety of ways: as metaphors, embodied realities, sources of evidence and institutional rationalities. Yet, the senses seem to exceed and confound law in a number of ways.
The book is animated by four broad questions: Does law have senses? How does law make sense of human senses? How do we speak of law through a vocabulary of senses? And what are the assumptions about the senses that underpin law as well as critiques of norms?
First, we want to examine the ways in which law – including formal and informal norms, legal institutions, legal actors, legal practices, and legal knowledges – can have sensory perception. Justice is commonly visualized as a blindfolded woman (with sword and scales, no less). But can or should law and legal institutions hear, see, feel, taste, or smell? If so, which senses are privileged in the legal sensorium? What, then, is the scope of law’s perception? What remains unheard, unseen, or unfelt? Which senses do legal institutions use to perceive class, race, gender and sexuality, and how do they respond to injunctions to be “blind” towards any specific characteristic?
Second, law draws on, questions, validates and otherwise deals with human sensory perception. For example, which functioning of the senses becomes ‘normal’ and prescriptive? Which registers of perception can be relied upon to produce evidence? Which conduct, registered by which senses, can count as ‘offensive’? Existing scholarship suggests that legal institutions prefer visual evidence over, for example, auditory and olfactory evidence. What are the hierarchies of credibility of human senses? Whose senses count? How is reliability of sensory evidence negotiated?
Third, accounts and critiques of law are often couched in a vocabulary of sensory perception. Law can be hard or soft, it can feel abstract and cold, and judgments can be fresh or stale. What does it mean to talk about law in the register of senses? Which lines of critique become possible (or are foreclosed) once we consider the way the law looks, sounds, feels, smells, or tastes?
Finally, which assumptions about the senses, their ‘normal’ functioning, and their ability to produce knowledge is assumed in legal and critical discourses? Rather than criticizing that law doesn’t capture the senses, shouldn’t we also be concerned with the representations and limits of the senses? What work does the common division of the sensorium into five distinct senses do? How does a framework that is based on measuring perception and concerned with reliability deal with experiences of the uncanny, of haunting, or of the impossibility of distinguishing between touch, sound, and sight? How do discourses on the senses set standards about how and how much one ought to feel, see or hear in order to have ‘normal’ sensory perception?
The collection will present original interdisciplinary scholarship that traverses the intersections between law, culture, and the humanities. The chapters will push the boundaries of established fields, methods, and lines of inquiry in the study of law and the senses. The editors are Sheryl Hamilton, Diana Majury, Neil Sargent, and Christiane Wilke.
The Canadian Initiative in Law, Culture and Humanities has organized interdisciplinary, thought-provoking and interactive workshops and conferences since 2004. In this spirit of collaboration and exploration, this book project will include a workshop in February 2013. Authors and editors will share and discuss their work in progress with one another. Attendance is mandatory for all authors, and we will apply for funding to cover the costs of the workshop.
The deadline for chapter proposals is March 1st, 2012. The workshop will be held in Ottawa in late February 2013.
Please submit a chapter proposal (up to 1000 words, situating the proposed chapter within your own work and within the field), a short biographical statement and contact information to: CILCH@carleton.ca.