The inaugural Law and Social Sciences Research Network (LASSnet) Conference was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in 2009. A subsequent conference was held at the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education (FLAME) in Pune in 2010. In 2012, the third LASSNet conference was a collaboration between the Law and Society Trust, Colombo and the Department of Law, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. These conferences identified a number of priorities for the research, study and practice of law in South Asia.
This year’s LASSnet conference, being held in New Delhi from December 10 and 12, has chosen one such theme, namely, intimate connections between Evidence and Law. The background note to the conference says: “The indeterminacy in law could be read both as a problem of truth and also as one that plagues disciplines.” The methodological concerns with the seeking and making of certainty and truth implicate a whole range of disciplines, not just law. The stakes in thinking with evidence are very high since doing so raises the core epistemological claims, regarding not just of what, but also how we know; the note adds that the very grounds of evidence are themselves shifting terrain, subject not only to developments in science and technology but also to forms of historical consciousness and social knowledge.
There are 11 sessions, with each session divided into six panels, each deliberating on a specific topic at the same time. The result is a fabulous academic treat to scholars hailing from various institutions across the world: 63 panels with at least four panelists in each, having a conversation on the nuances of thinking with evidence in varied disciplines.
Pratiksha Baxi, of the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Siddharth Narrain, of The Sarai Programme, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies,who are coordinating with the participants for the conference, answer Livelaw’s questions on the origin, scope and relevance of LASSnet and this year’s subject and the panels.
LL: LASSnet is soon to complete 10 years. How has the journey been so far?
PB & SN: The idea of LASSnet germinated more than a decade ago at the first critical legal studies conference organised by Professors Kalpana Kannabiran, Stewart Motha and Ranbir Singh at NALSAR, Hyderabad, in 2006. Some of us, Pratiksha Baxi, Stewart Motha, late Dwijen Rangnekar, Brenna Bhandar and Lawrence Liang began talking about the need to highlight the critical scholarship on law in the region but without replicating the law and society, law and economics or critical legal studies movements in the West. In 2007, these conversations gathered momentum when Niraja Gopal Jayal at CSLG, JNU encouraged Pratiksha to forge ahead with the formation of LASSnet anchored at CSLG, JNU.
The first meeting of 14 academics was dodged by a certain scepticism that we would not find more than 50 academics who may be interested in the idea of LASS. Pratiksha was however more optimistic and certain that it was time that serious social science and humanities research on law find recognition, conversation and circulation in the world of law and the word. The first inaugural conference at JNU and the second one at FLAME, Pune marked the critical involvement of many scholars. Both these conferences witnessed more than 1000 participants over three days. The conversations that carried over to Sri Lanka led by Deepika Udagama, Stewart Motha, late Priya Thangarajah, and Ahilan Kadirgamar, among others, were born of conversations with late Sethi Thiruchelvam, who encouraged LASSnet to go to Sri Lanka.
This year’s conference saw the conversation move back to Delhi. We have inherited the work of a generation of scholars such as Neelan Thiruchelvam, Marc Galanter, Upendra Baxi, SP Sathe, Lotika Sarkar, Chattrapati Singh, Vasudha Dhagamwar, Rani Jethmalani, among other notables. We have gestured towards the intellectual debt that we owe to these scholars for opening up critical research in law and social suffering through archival, citational and intellectual acknowledgments in our research and teaching. Many of these scholars have supported us through their work or their participation to come into being and find the intellectual ground beneath our feet.
Soon we became a virtual network of more than 500 academics, activists and lawyers from all over the world. LASSnet is an informal network – not a membership based association yet – and its first ten years have been also in the nature of a movement. It has been cherished and nurtured by the unstinting work and care of a number of people who have recognised the need to reject academic hierarchies that mime judicial hierarchies. We have insisted that epistemic communities must be based on reciprocity, friendship and an ethic of care. We have struggled for funding, yet we were determined to challenge the idea that critical and nuanced scholarship is dependent on major funding and patronage. LASSnet has seen an intensification of enthusiasm and energy, nowadays so rare in our academic lives, due to the labour of love, spirit of generosity and respect for each other that we have inculcated as a way of functioning.
We have challenged academic hierarchies consciously by bringing together senior academics with young researchers. We have grown tremendously in our work through our conversations at LASSnet. Each one of us, irrespective of where we work or live, found new friends to share our work with, publish together or sought opportunities to travel abroad so that the work in the region circulates.
The next decade of LASSnet, in whatever shape or form it survives, if it does, we hope will be focussed around publishing research and organising conversations about the pedagogy of law as social science/humanities. We invite law schools and legal practitioners to respond to our invitation to challenge the deeply entrenched division between “law” and “non-law” in pedagogy and research. We invite those who think law is the monopoly of legal experts alone to engage with those who have never trained in law yet researched and taught law as social science/humanities. We challenge the dismissal or the marginalisation of the social, political, economic, historical and the aesthetic from the research and pedagogy of law.
The 2016 edition of LASSnet is a testimony to the enthusiastic and serious response to the invitation issued by LASSnet. This edition of the conference is a collaboration between many institutions – O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat; National Law University, Delhi; Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU; the Dickson Poon Transnational Law Institute, King’s College, London; Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, Ambedkar University Delhi, and IIT Delhi. The conference has been supported by ICSSR, and the academic publishing houses Taylor and Francis, Cambridge University Press, Orient Blackswan, and Oxford University Press. Nitasha Devasar, Shafina Saigol and Sonali Bhardwaj from Taylor and Francis have been remarkable in extending themselves to put this conference in place.
We are extremely grateful each and every person who has issued this invitation by crafting LASSnet as the space where conversations that usually do not flourish in legal academia or disciplinary canons of social sciences/humanities can find a lease of life. While we know we may have failed to realise some of our aspirations but as they say some failures are better than most successes.
LL: Please tell us about this year’s conference theme, that is, Thinking with Evidence, Seeking Certainty, Making Truth. Is there a special reason to choose this subject?
PB & SN: In these times of virtual reality, forensic imaginaries and ephemeral archives, the theme around evidence served as a perfect ground to stage interdisciplinary conversations around a range of law and social science related topics. With Oxford Dictionaries declaring the word of the year to be “post truth”, there is a way in which conversations around evidence, truth, and objectivity have dominated the political, legal, cultural and technological landscape over the last few years. Lassnet 2016 seeks to speak to these concerns.
LL: Tell us something about the scope of the Conference. Some 63 panels having deliberations over three days is amazing. Surely, it is more than a get together of academics from various disciplines from across the world. What do you hope to achieve academically, in these three days? Is there an enduring value in these discussions to be tapped after the conference is over?
PB & SN: LASSnet is an opportunity for young researchers and scholars to interact with and present their work alongside senior academics. This is a rare forum where the discussions are framed around a theme rather than being restricted by disciplinary boundaries. We have attempted to make this a space where academics, activists, practitioners, and those in policy are able to speak to each other. We hope that there are organic connections that emerge from the discussions over three days. We are hoping that we can bring out a series of publications based on the material presented at the conference. The conference is also one event where everyone who is part of LASSnet is able to meet each other in person. We hope that this strengthens the network, which is a unique informal network of academics, activists and lawyers from across the world. We hope that the intense energy from this conference is carried over into smaller workshops, discussions, collaborations, meetings and initiatives that are able to speak to the idea of LASSnet.
LL: Give us some highlights of the conference, the panels, and the panelists.
PB & SN: This year’s highlights include the opening plenary presentation by Karuna Mantena, whose talk is titled Satyagraha and Collective Power: Gandhi and Dilemmas of Mass Action. The closing Plenary addresses the question of law and social struggles, and the law’s transformative potential, with eminent speakers such as Usha Ramanathan, Babloo Loitongbam, Indira Jaising, Upendra Baxi and Julia Eckert.
The conference will see three panels dedicated to LASSnet members who tragically passed away in recent years – the Tenth Anniversary Panel dedicated to the academic Dwijen Rangnekar, which will focus on global injustices and the framework of intellectual property rights. Dwijen’s work on geographical indicators, especially feni, is a pathbreaking illustration of how interdisciplinary work on law can then feed into law, policy and praxis.
We have a panel dedicated to the activist and lawyer Priya Thangarajah which focused on feminist political thought and practice. Her work illustrated how one does not need to do populist research to make an impact in the field of law and life. Both Dwijen and Priya were the life and soul of the LASS adda, and we miss them tremendously. We also have a panel dedicated to the legal scholar Nasser Husain titled “The Police Effect: Structure, Ideology and the Everyday”. This U.S. based Pakistani scholar’s slim book on the history of emergency laws in the region was pathbreaking and highly inspiring for scholars in the field in the region. Books and ideas travel in friendship with those we may have never met—although Nasser Hussain could not get a visa and had health issues that prevented him from coming to LASS. We admired him deeply.
There are plenty of excellent panels to choose from, and those attending are going to be spoiled for choice.
LL: What is there in the Conference for the study and understanding of Indian Law and the Constitution? Will any contemporary subject like Demonetisation come up during the Conference? Which panel is likely to discuss such contemporary issues?
PB & SN: There are a bunch of panels that address the theme of the law and the constitution directly, but Constitution frames many of the discussions at the conference. The ones that directly address this theme include a panel on Evidence and Constitutional Interpretation in India that features Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Arun Thiruvengadam, Sitharamam Kakarala and Vineeth Krishna. This panel will address debates around Originalism and the Indian Constitution.
Naveen Thayyil from IIT-Delhi is anchoring a series of conversations on law, technology and science, or panels of the life of DNA chaired by Usha Ramanathan or medico-legal techniques in rape trials promise to bring up newer concerns. The pathbreaking study by Dr. Anup Surendranath from NLUD on Death Penalty will be displayed at LASSnet. Mrinal Satish and Aparna Chandra, who are part of the Centre for Constitutional Law, Policy and Governance, NLUD, are presenting their work at the conference. Scholars from O.P. Jindal Global University such as Prof C. Rajkumar, Shiv Viswanathan, Alexander Fischer, R. Sudarshan, Saptarshi Mandal, Mathew John, Oishik Sircar, Dipika Jain, Mani Shekhar Singh and Deblina Dey who have worked on themes related to the social, aesthetic and political life of law are participating in the conference.
The series of panels on law, theatre, visuality, media, literature and performing arts, reflect the impact of the research interests of scholars such as G. Arunima, Sanil V., Patricia Hayes, Veena Hariharan, Ranjani Mazumdar, Debashree Mukherjee, Lawrence Liang, Mani Shekhar Singh, Nicole Wolf, Shireen Hassim, Ravi Sundaram, Ravi Vasudevan, and younger scholars such as Rahela Khorakiwala, Shailesh Kumar, Madhavi Shukla among others, marking the turn to legal studies as central to humanities.
The anthropological attention to the life of the law is a central theme that cuts across the conference, bringing to fore the question of whether the social is a dangerous supplement to the legal. Each panel foregrounds the centrality of evidence in our own disciplines, and across disciplines as method, technique, or art.
The School of Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University, the School of Law, Governance and Citizenship, Ambedkar University Delhi, the Dickson Poon Transnational Law Institute, King’s College, and the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU, all of which represent different types of initiatives in interdisciplinary research and teaching around law, have been integral to the planning of this edition of LASSnet.
There are a number of other contemporary issues that will be addressed at LASSnet including panels around evidence in environmental law, media forensics, personal law, rights based legislation, taxation, judicial performance and the right to health care. Many contemporary topics around law, violence, justice and rights in the domain of sexuality, (dis)ability, democracy, capital, technique, visuality, among others are being discussed.
Given that this conference with over 300 academics, activists and lawyers is being organized in the time of demonetization, we expect this to be part of lived experience of what it means to travel to the city and discourse around the work of law and capital. We must however confess that we did not feel the urgent need to squeeze in a paper as a last minute response to the issue of demonetization for so much has been written and debated in the public domain so brilliantly.
We are also painfully aware that in any domain of law and life, populist research does not serve serious engagement with law and social suffering.
LL: Give us some idea about the previous LASSnet conferences, and their contributions.
PB & SN: The inaugural LASSnet conference was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in 2009. A subsequent conference titled “Siting Law” was held at the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education (FLAME), Pune in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society (CSCS), Bengaluru and the Alternative Law Forum, Bengaluru, in 2010.
In 2012 the third LASSnet conference was a collaboration between the Law and Society Trust, Colombo, and the Department of Law, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. These conferences identified a number of priorities for the research, study and practice of law in South Asia. Intimate connections between Evidence and Law is one such fundamental question.
LL: Which books are being released at LASSnet and their details
PB & SN: There are discussions around six books that are being held at LASSnet. Most of these books have just been published or yet to be published. These include Mrinal Satish’s “Discretion, Discrimination and the Rule of Law: Reforming Rape Sentencing in India” (CUP) , Dipika Jain and Oishik Sircar’s “New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times” (Zubaan), Anuj Bhuwania’s “Courting the People: Public Interest Litigation in Post Emergency India” (CUP) , Gautam Bhan’s “In the Public’s Interest: Evictions, Citizenship and Inequality in Contemporary Delhi” (Orient BlackSwan), Chirashree Dasgupta’s “State and Capital in Independent India: Institutions and Accumulation”(CUP) and Pooja Parmar’s “Indigeneity and Legal Pluralism in India: Claims, Histories and Meanings (CUP)
We have structured discussions around two books together in a panel, arranged according to theme. We expect these panels to draw a large number of people at the conference, as this is an opportunity for the audience to engage with cutting edge work in this area.
Besides these books the conference will see a discussion around The India Social Development Report 2016 that will focus on the area of (dis)ability.
The Indian Law Review, an academic journal on Indian law, and a product of the
conversations at LASSnet over a decade will be launched at the conference.
The importance of blogging on law and life will be discussed at a panel crafted by Peer Zumbansen. This panel includes publishing of books and journals of scholarship which is not considered “mainstream” legal scholarship. Blogs such as a LiveLaw also play a critical role in circulating and affirming that law can be researched by other means—in this case, in social sciences or humanities.
In the run up to the conference, a syllabus workshop designed between King’s College London and O.P. Jindal Global Law School was held where mid-career and early career teachers were invited to submit a syllabus of their own design for feedback and discussion. This exciting opportunity anchored by Dipika Jain, at OP Jindal Global University and Peer Zumbansen, at the Transnational Law Institute, King’s College, allows faculty to find space and time to reflect on their pedagogy.
We thank each and every person who has helped us with the making of the 2016 edition of LASSnet. Thank you, LiveLaw for finding us in conversation. We have enjoyed following LiveLaw Conversations.
This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.