Thursday, 9 June 2011

Reflections on Law and Society Annual Conference

I've probably already told you far too many times that I was at the Law and Society Annual Conference in San Francisco last week. You can read my abstract and look at the slides in this earlier post.

The conference felt more hectic than normal as I had to finish a much-delayed book chapter when I arrived. More info on that when the book comes out. Anyhow, a few papers are worthy of a public mention. Joe Rollins (CUNY, Queens College) presented a fascinating paper entitled 'Sexting Cyberspace: Sex, Social Media and the Law'. The topic has taken on a new lease of life in the media in light of the Weinergate stories. Rollins focused on the issue of young people sexting (sending revealing photos to one another). His paper seemed to come from a position of concern and pro-regulation. As you might imagine, I come at it from a different angle, and his paper was a reminder of how utterly lost the law sometimes seems to be in addressing new technologies. In truth, these developments (I found myself thinking), are about our fear of childhood sexuality. This was a theme, Rollins touched upon but could be developed much more. When kids sext, they are transgressing the traditional boundaries of childhood, expressing consensual desire and that threatens our non-sexual conception of childhood.

Sexting also threatens to create additional dangers to young people, as their photos fall into the possession of the unintended but I'm still unclear on how worried I/We should be about that. It's one of the trickier issues of cyberspace.

Steven Vaughen (Cardiff) presented a paper that had been co-authored with Matthew Williams (also Cardiff), entitled 'Commidifying Sexuality? The Rise of Law Firm LGBT Groups.' It was an engagingly presented and important piece exploring the growth of LGBT groups in UK law firms. There seemed to be lots of thoughts about future development/work and I think some really exciting articles will come from the work Steven and Matthew are engaged with. For my part, I was curious to see the kind of identity that these groups are forming - i.e, is it restricted to 'the good gay'. This far, it seems to groups are client-focused and about bringing in more clients/income. Which is very lawyerly and rather depressing. Steven is also on twitter, follow him here.

I was also fortunate to hear a couple of great sex work papers from Laura Graham (Nottingham) and Thomas Crofts (Sydney). Trevor Hoppe (Michigan) presented a paper entitled 'Surveillance by the Book: Community Level and Public Health Policing of HIV Disclosure.' I found it the best paper of the conference. Hoppe set out not only the emerging US response to the issue of HIV transmission, but specifically the issue of disclosure and duties to disclose ones HIV status. It made for an interesting comparison to English law and I can't wait to read the full paper, and eventual article.

In my own panel, I was moved by a powerful paper by Nancy Knauer (Temple) exploring the issue of LGBT elders, along with an engaging paper from Don Short (Manitoba) on Canadian queer citizenship. The ever wonderful Arn Thorben Sauer presented an excellent paper exploring gender and human rights, although we clearly disagreed on the issue of bareback sex.

On the final day I went along to an excellent paper from Annette Houlihan (Murdoch), who presented a paper exploring HIV offences in Australia. Again, lots to think about and hopefully some scope for collaboration. I look forward to talking to Annette further.

Finally, as part of the conference, I also had the good fortune to serve as a chair/discussant at a work in progress session. I oversaw two papers. Kevin Maass presented his research entitled 'Examining Cocaine Sentencing with Both Forms, across Race/Ethnicity, and after Judicial Decisions. It's not really my area but I found the presentation and discussion very enjoyable. Kevin is clearly passionate about his work and it has the makings of a really interesting project. The other paper was from Mai-Linh Kong (Virginia) entitled '"Get Off Your Ass-Phalt Off My Ancestors": The VCU Slave Cemetery Controversy.' Mai-Linh had a very sharp mind and focus, and presented an incredibly engaging piece. I can easily see her going far, and you can follow her on twitter here.

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