Johanna Commins

PhD Candidate

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Johanna Commins is a PhD Candidate at Melbourne Law School and a member of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities. Her research is interdisciplinary, combining approaches to jurisprudence and legal theory with literature, art and the humanities generally.

Johanna’s research project brings into conversation her interests in legal theory, human rights, literature, art history, feminism and the representations of women.

Before commencing her PhD at Melbourne Law School, Johanna worked for a number of years in refugee status determination with the Refugee Status Branch of Immigration New Zealand, and as a legal researcher at the New Zealand Immigration and Protection Tribunal. In addition, she has worked as an English teacher in South Korea, a post-graduate advisor at the University of Auckland and as an abstract writer for the New Zealand Law Society.

She holds a BA/LLB, BA (Hons) and MA (First Class Pass) from the University of Auckland.

Thesis Title

Law’s handmaids: text, image, resistance and the rule of law

Thesis Summary

Starting with Margaret Atwood’s novel, my thesis considers the iconography of the handmaid through her various iterations: in the 1985 text and its related art, the Hulu television series begun in 2017, the 2019 Graphic Novel by Renee Nault, and her contemporary status as a protest symbol. As a symbol of idealised and highly regulated femininity, the handmaid invites legal questions about thresholds and access, silence and speaking, affect, irony and ontological excess. This project seeks answers to such questions by drawing on scholarship in law and the humanities, affect theory, and critical, feminist and queer (legal) theories.


  • Art and Law
  • Feminist Legal Theory
  • Human Rights Law
  • Jurisprudence
  • Legal Aesthetics
  • Legal Theory
  • Post-Colonial Theory
  • Queer and Post-modern Legal Theory
  • Sexual Identities and the Law