This is a guest blog post by Dr Martyn Pickersgill and Dr Emilie Cloatre, investigators for the AHRC Science in Culture Theme Research Network ‘Technoscience, Law and Society: Interrogating the Nexus.’ Martyn Pickersgill is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Biomedical Ethics at Edinburgh Medical School, and Dr Emilie Cloatre is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Kent Law School.
The Network brings together scholars and professionals from across disciplines and policy spheres, aiming to deepen and sustain emerging interdisciplinary conversations about science, technologies and law. In particular, we are concerned with exploring the potential (and the claims made about this) for law to regulate and to stimulate social and technoscientific innovation. Further, how do these processes reflect ideas about – and help to demarcate differences between – legal, scientific, and technological spaces?
By asking these kinds of questions, we want to explore not only the interactions between technoscience and law, but also what assumptions we – as scholars, professionals, and members of society – have about the ‘nature’ of, and overlaps between, these distinct worlds.
Interrogating materiality as an interface between knowledge and technology
With these overarching aims in mind on October 24th, on a bright day in Canterbury, we held the second meeting of our AHRC-funded Technoscience, Law and Society Network. This event was a collaboration between Kent Law School (PI: Emilie Cloatre) and Edinburgh Medical School (Co-I: Martyn Pickersgill).
The event was called,’Science, Technologies and Legal Processes: The Place, Role and Impact of Materiality‘. Our objective was to interrogate the role of ‘materiality’ in the interface between regulation and law, scientific and other kinds of knowledge, and tools and devices.
In doing so, we brought together ‘traditional’ concerns within the academic discipline of science and technology studies (STS) – regarding the role of materials in mediating and ordering social relationships – and recent explorations from interdisciplinary legal studies that have engaged with the meanings of materiality within the law. An exciting range of speakers, and a room full of marvelously thoughtful delegates, helped us do this.
Some insights and perspectives
A number of talks concerned specific materials: in particular, paper. Irene van Oorschot (Erasmus University, Rotterdam) spoke of the legal case file in The Netherlands, and how it’s size, weight and form shaped judicial practice. Marie-Andree Jacob (Keele University) asked how documents (especially consent forms) regulated through the inter-locking processes of opacity and transparency. She also described how forcing institutionally-invisible documents into the sphere of regulatory vision can propel biomedical innovation (or perceptions of this).
Jose Bellido (Birkbeck College, London) showed us, through close historical analysis, how contributor’s pay cheques helped to constitute their (freelance) subjectivities at The Times newspaper and shaped the nature of copyrighting. Documents too, in the form of sick-notes and scientific articles, played roles in the conceptual and empirical work of Emily Grabham (University of Kent), who interrogated their role in embedding social understandings of time and temporality in the legal management of bodies – and especially, assumptions regarding somatic decline and the kinds of rights, risks and responsibilities that are activated through these. In his talk, Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (University of Westminster, London) provoked us into thinking about the conceptual purchase that studies of autopoiesis might hold for how we engage with the ephemerality of ‘the material’ of and in law.
When materiality and law collide and structure one another
Central too to the day were talks which dealt with how we know, and what we do with knowledge, when thinking about the multiple ways in which ‘materiality’ and ‘law’ collide and structure one another. To this end, Iain Borden (University College, London) illustrated the ways in which cityscapes regulated – as well as enabled – the serious playfulness of skateboarding, and contoured ways of knowing urban space through physical experience. Materials can also be used to know and reveal the law and those who transgress it; as Gearóid Ó Cuinn (Lancaster University) evidenced, different legal genres can be invoked in order to challenge human rights violations ‘through the back door’ – for example, by enjoining travel agents to more accurately label and advertise their organized tours in the ‘middle East’ (impacting on the ways in which tourism knows and performs legally-demarcated space). As Aurelien Bouayad (Sciences Po, Paris) showed us, knowledge about materials (in this case, archeological findings) can play important roles in legal decision-making, with profound effects on identities and policy recognition. For Victor Toom (Northumbria University, Newcastle), knowledge about materials (in this case, human remains) can be incomplete, leading to economic, emotional and epistemic investment in order to satisfy a normative impulse to deal with these ‘appropriately’.
Further discussions and upcoming events in 2014
The presentations and discussion thus tackled a series of issues, including the role of artefacts in mediating the deployment of the law, the joint works of law and science in producing materiality, the materiality of law and legal documents, the conceptual utility (and challenges) of engaging with materiality to understand the workings and meanings of law, and the different methodological tools that can be used to examine materiality and law.
As we hoped, the workshop produced more questions than answers, and we look forward to taking this ‘informed uncertainty’ with us to the other events we will convene over 2014 as part of the Technoscience, Law and Society Network. For more information, or to join the Network, please contact us at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. You can look up us, and the project, on Twitter: @PickersgillM, @emiliecloatre, and @TechLawSociety.
This is one of a series of guest blog posts written by AHRC Science in Culture Theme Award Holders. The Science in Culture Theme is a key area of AHRC Funding and supports projects committed to developing reciprocal relationships between scientists and arts and humanities researchers. More information about the Technoscience, Law and Society Network can be found here. Follow us on twitter at @AHRCSciCulture for updates from the theme.