This workshop considers the application of the emerging philosophical ideas of "plasticity" to the socio-legal analyses of rapidly changing social orders. Current approaches have proven theoretically insufficient in capturing the forms that law, legality, and legitimacy take in light of rapid changes in society, governance, technology and identity. Within the current approaches, law is treated as dynamic and the activities that engage law successfully are often posited as contingent upon the circumstances in each case. Although theoretical advancement has been made using such models to understand the configuration of social forces and the influence of social practice, much of the value in such theorizing is lost in the inability of current models to simultaneously account for dynamic and contingent sets of practices while remaining generalizable over time and across cases; a situation that is further complicated when considering rapidly changing material conditions.

The current workshop tests the application of a new approach that incorporates these elements. It, therefore, holds strong promise for fundamentally advancing current theorizing by initiating new lines of research in socio-legal studies.

Project Report

PI: Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller Co-PI: Brenna Bhandar On 3 November through 5 November, 2011, the workshop was held at Goodenough College in London, U.K. The grant directly and indirectly supported the attendance of Catherine Malabou, around whose philosophical research this workshop was organized, and ten other scholars (Brenna Bhandar, Bradley Bryan, Silvana Carotenuto, Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller, Catherine Kellogg, Renisa Mawani, Fred Moten, Michael Shapiro, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Alberto Toscano) This collection of scholars represented senior and junior faculty from several countries (Canada, France, Italy, United Kingdom, United States), disciplines (Law, English, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology). In addition, the workshop sustained an audience of about two dozen faculty and students from various institutions and academic fields in the United Kingdom and France who participated in discussions. The goals of the workshop were several. First, we intended to explore the mobility of the philosophical concept of plasticity as developed by Catherine Malabou within critical legal and political discourse in an effort to comprehend the sociolegal dynamics of rapid change. Second, because the concept of plasticity was designed to capture the movements of new material relations and associated subjectivities, we sought to understand the ways that plasticity could inform, and in turn, become reformed by new postcolonial and post-racial constellations of identity, property, and violence. Finally, our goal was to bring junior faculty together with more senior and established faculty to facilitate mentoring and provide opportunities for intellectual exchange and publication of the workshop’s research papers. These major goals were substantively met. The workshop began with a public lecture by Catherine Malabou that attracted over 200 people and a sustained discussion led by two panelists (Profs. Michael Shapiro and Fred Moten). The two days following saw the presentation of nine papers and their thorough discussion. These papers covered a wide range of issues responsive to the themes of the workshop. Prof. Malabou responded to each paper individually and delivered remarks at the end of the workshop engaging the workshop themes. The papers are presently undergoing revision by the authors and the PI and Co-PI are writing an organizing chapter and conducting a scholarly interview with Prof. Malabou in order to complete a book with the other participants. Duke University Press has indicated an interest in the project and will be considering the manuscript in the next few months. Because of this project, the participants in the seminar have not sought outside publication at this time.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Susan Sterett
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University of Hawaii
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