Sunday, May 30, 2010

Law and Society 2010

Somehow, despite having foresworn never to attend again, I found myself at the Law and Society Annual meeting in Chicago last week. It went relatively well. I presented along with two charming and clever academics from McGill Univ., Ms. Isabelle Martin and Dr. Julie Paquin. We spoke on Governance in Action. Isabelle does research on Socially Responsible Investment and Julie presented her new research area which concerns trust and contracts in the Canadian Aerospace industry. I presented on how regulation works on East African stock exchanges compared to the US.

My main complaint about the meeting remains that it is very domestic. It is just an odd mix of sociologists, anthropologists with a few lawyers thrown in. Chicago had great weather while I was there. Also, the town was abuzz since the Obamas’ were there for the weekend, the Backhawks were in the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Memorial Day parade started just outside my hotel.

I did attend one exceedingly interesting panel discussion. The presenters were sociologists and a law professor. The sociologist, Heather Pool from the Univ. of Washington, spoke about public and political mourning. She focused on several historical events where people died such as the Triangle fire of 1911 and 9/11 which resulted in public mourning. The mourning over the loss of someone or a group of people had to be both public and political, she concluded, for there then to be a resultant public call for institutional change of any kind. The Triangle fire, for example, where tragically hundreds of female workers died because the doors were locked leaving no escape but the windows, led to a safer working environment for garment workers. Often these deaths are mourned publicly through the media and with visual images. For the Triangle Fire the image was of an Irish/American Fireman carrying the body of a dead Jewish worker from the scene. These images communicate vulnerability and create solidarity.

Someone in the audience mentioned the deaths of individuals crossing the US-Mexican border year after year and the virtual invisibility of those deaths. There was an interesting discussion following this. One striking image for illegal border crossing is the caution sign near San Diego that depicts a family running across the highway. It cautions drivers to look out for families running across the highway. Someone also mentioned the invisibility of the recent deaths of the 11 BP workers on the rig now expelling oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Sadly, there were no conclusions to these observations only the silent realisation that some deaths are going to get recognised and others are not. Even with all of protests against the Arizona Immigration law there has been no public consciousness raised on deaths in the desert of illegal border crossers.

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