ISRF Early Career Fellow 2017-18
ISRF Early Career Fellow 2017-18
Jessie Hohmann is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary, University of London. She previously completed a PhD at the University of Cambridge, where she was also a British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, and has degrees from the University of Sydney, Osgoode Hall Law School, and the University of Guelph. Her research focuses on the objects and materiality of international law, on human rights (particularly the right to housing), and on indigenous peoples in international law. She is a founding editor of the Queen Mary Human Rights Law Review, and Co-Director of the Queen Mary Centre for European and International Legal Affairs.
Jessie’s ISRF project seeks to open an innovative new theoretical and methodological direction for international legal scholarship, prompted by the question: what would be revealed if we began with things, and material objects, rather than with texts?
Material things fill our homes, our cities, our bodies, and we are surrounded by objects from the minute and ephemeral to the enduring and the enormous. Yet we seldom consider international law’s role in creating these objects; giving them force and authority; according them special or everyday status; or – on the other hand, stripping them of the authority to be, preventing their coming into being, or resulting in their destruction. From this perspective, our world is filled with objects of international law, and each of these material objects exists in a manner which is caught up with international law’s objects as purposes. In revealing the deep entanglements of international law and the material things around us, we can begin to understand how international law structures us as its subjects – and sets the contours for the possibilities and limits of our lives – through objects. This will enable new ways of thinking about, but also opportunities for contesting, resisting, and re-forming international law and its implications for our lived experience.
This project opens an innovative new theoretical direction and methodology for international legal scholarship, prompted by the question: what would emerge or be revealed if we began with the material object – the paper shredder, say, or the armed drone, the AIDS virus or gavel – rather than the text?
In raising this question, I depart from existing scholarship and practice in two ways. First, the project rejects the discipline’s normal horizons, where the interpretation and proliferation of state-created text is the central – sometimes exclusive – reference point. Second, it resists the gulf between international law’s deep effects on the lives of individuals, and the perception of international law as remote and unaccountable.
The project’s theoretical innovation is the shift from regarding international law as state-focused, text-based and distant from ordinary lives, to understanding it as having a range of material effects and a major role in constructing the world around us. The methodological innovation is to begin with the object rather than the text or the intentions and motivations of states, and to use interdisciplinary approaches to ‘read’ objects and understand and demonstrate how they are given meaning and value by international law.
My current work (Hohmann & Joyce (eds), forthcoming late 2017) tests the ‘object’ methodology through an edited collection of forty material things. Each chapter examines an object and through it provides an account of international law’s operation in the world. It opens up a rich vein of deep questions for international law, to be investigated during the fellowship. Through a monograph and web-gallery, I will draw on and apply insights on objects, things, and material cultures from disciplines including anthropology, museum studies, philosophy, sociology, design studies, architecture, science and technology studies, resulting in an account of a richly socially embedded and intensely relevant international law.