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Dr Karen Crawley
Griffith University
Dr Honni van Rijswijk
University of Technology Sydney

We are living and working in an historical moment (late capitalism, dying neoliberalism and fraught feminisms) in which it seems urgent to both mobilise and interrogate the term “feminisms” as a set of critical methods and practices to understand #metoo, and #sayhername, and movements including #BlackLivesMatter. Similarly, the category “woman” still has critical and political potential, albeit problematized and understood fundamentally intersectionally (and definitely as anti-TERF). This is important in thinking through the dominance of the use of “gender” over “woman,” and the critical attenuation of words including “patriarchy.”

In this piece, we suggest critical feminist legal genres as a way forward, or at least through, these contradictions, and explore exemplary aesthetic texts that explain what these practices involve. It makes sense to think of feminist critical genres as coming from below—as thick descriptions, attentive to specific materialities and material modes of production, which are not arranged a priori. Paying attention to questions of genre makes us consider questions of judgment and the interpretation of reading and writing practices in ways that fundamentally lean towards the critical. Feminist legal genres provide critique of liberal law’s abstractions—here, genre alludes to aesthetic form, but also refers to a praxis of critical reflection.

What we are defining as feminist legal genres opens up questions of law, authority, and violence in ways that are uniquely attentive to gender/race (intersectionality)—judgment’s point of view, judgment’s voice, judgment’s subjectivity, judgment’s articulations in time and space. These representations theorise and make law in unique ways. Eg Cvetovich: sutures intimate with national histories (memoir as national history). The cultural domain provides a space in which to engage with the time and space of violence outside law’s frameworks—to refuse to accept the terms of dominant legal, political and social imaginaries in representing and adjudicating events. Engaging exemplary counter-texts in this mode provides a way to challenge law’s forms, not least through experiences of “affective dissonance” (Antaki, 2013, p. 977).

Dr Karen Crawley researches and teaches at the intersection of law, justice and aesthetics. Her research is interdisciplinary and draws on literary theory, critical theory, and feminist legal philosophy to inquire into how legal subjects enact, embody and resist law and envision justice. She is co-editor of Envisioning Legality: Law, Culture and Representation (Routledge 2018) and Sound, Space and Civility in the British World, 1700-1850 (Ashgate, 2019). She is Managing Editor of the Australian Feminist Law Journal, Editorial Board member of the Griffith Law Review, and former Vice-President of the Law, Literature and Humanities Association of Australasia (lawlithum.org). Karen is currently working on: Theorising Censorship through Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman; and Stories we Tell: Documenting Filial Relationships in Law and Literature. She has recently collaborated with Dr Julie Fragar from QCA on a funded project called ‘Artist as Witness: Investigating the Role of the Artist in the Trial Space’.

Dr Honni van Rijswijk is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. She received her PhD from the University of Washington, where she was a Fellow in the Society of Scholars at the Simpson Center for the Humanities. She has published on feminist theories of harm, formulations of responsibility in law and literature, the role of history in the common law, and on questions of justice relating to the Stolen Generations. Honni is currently writing a monograph, Law and the Girl: Gender, Genre, Violence.

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