The Doctoral Forum on Legal Theory is an annual interdisciplinary workshop hosted by graduate researchers. The Forum brings together research students and early career researchers from a range of academic disciplines to engage with social, political, theoretical, and methodological issues raised by law and legal theory.
The 14th Melbourne Doctoral Forum on Legal Theory will take place on 22-23 November 2021 as a fully virtual event. The forum brings together graduate researchers and early career scholars from a range of disciplines and backgrounds to think methodically, theoretically and critically about law and theory. This year’s theme is Utopia and the legal imagination.
The world is in the early stages of a global pandemic; the ramifications of which are both immediate, and still partly unknown. In the midst of very real suffering, is there a place for some reflection on worlds past, present and future? Arundhati Roy suggested this pandemic could be a ‘portal’ to a different world,1 suggesting we are at a critical juncture for generating utopian thinking; while Rebecca Solnit observed that disasters ‘begin suddenly and never really end.’2 What can this period tell us about hope, creating new futures, and our histories?
We welcome papers from all areas of law, and from scholars in all disciplines whose work engages questions of method, law or theory. Please submit your expression of interest to the Annual Doctoral Forum on Legal Theory by Tuesday 1 September 2021 via this online form.
1Arundhati Roy. (2020). “Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’”. Financial Times. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca
2Rebecca Solnit. (2020). ‘'The impossible has already happened': what coronavirus can teach us about hope.’ The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/07/what-coronavirus-can-teach-us-about-hope-rebecca-solnit
Utopia and the legal imagination
Monday 22 and Tuesday 23 November 2021
Utopias and utopian thinking can often be seen as an exercise in dreaming; the unrealistic imagining of an impossible society. In the thinking behind laws and legal systems, there is an underpinned imagining of ideal worlds. Drawing from the work of Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas and Martha Merrill Umphrey in the collection Law and the Utopian Imagination, as well as Davina Cooper’s Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces, and Ruth Levitas’s Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society, this forum encourages participants to consider how legal scholars invoke law in the pursuit of utopia. The contemporary scholarship mentioned here considers the utopian as an ethos or process, the ‘desire for being otherwise,’ ‘oriented to the hope, desire and belief in the possibility of other, better worlds.’ In shaping our boundaries, minimums and maximums, crimes and punishments, what utopian visions are we containing or pursuing?
We invite submission on themes such as (but not limited to):
- Rethinking utopia
Is the time ripe to revisit the role of utopia in legal imagination? Have recent global events, and technological and scientific developments, changed how we might imagine utopia, or helped us reframe how we want to build our futures? Should we resist attempts to revive utopian thought in legal theory?
- Space, place and time
How do we grapple with the geographic and temporal boundaries of imagined worlds? How do we connect space, place, and understandings of the law?
- Imagining utopia
How do legal scholars imagine utopia? How does a legal imagining place itself and how is it informed by other disciplines? How does it incorporate ideas of citizenship, governance, work, indigeneity, disability, or the non-human? How is legal imagination distributed? What are the ethical implications of thinking about futures?
- Framing utopia
How does the imagination of utopia shape approaches to legal scholarship? Is utopia an outcome, a process, or a method? Is its pursuit an inescapable part of the legal project? How does the law seek to create or engage with ideal worlds?
Are there competing utopias, or dystopias contained within utopias?In practice, what kind of dysfunction, injustice, and forms of violence has the legal imagination created, or what dystopias does it have to grapple with? What is the inverse of an ideal world, and does building a utopia contain contradictions, or always contain some element of dystopia?
3Ruth Levitas, Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) xi.
4Davina Cooper, Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces (Duke University Press, 2014) 3.
5Margaret Atwood. (2011). ‘Margaret Atwood: the road to Ustopia.’ The Guardian. Available at:
The forum will be run online during business hours in Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time. We will be running presentations in two formats:
- Theory Café
Presenters break out into parallel rooms to lead a more intimate discussion on their paper with a smaller group of participants. After a designated period, participants move into a new breakout room, giving the presenter a chance to discuss their work across different groups.
- Paper Swap
Pairs of participants exchange their papers in advance and present a summary of, and response to, each other’s general arguments, before opening the conversation up to a general discussion.
You’ll also hear from keynote speakers, and the forum planning is currently considering skill share sessions with senior faculty.
Expressions of Interest
Please submit abstracts of 300 words together with biographies of up to 100 words via this form by Wednesday 1 September 2021. Please indicate in the form which presentation format you would prefer (Theory Café or Paper Swap), or whether you are open to your paper being considered for both formats.
Any inquiries are welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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