Socio-Legal Perspectives on Current Global and Local Challenges

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the second issue of the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies. Covering wide-ranging matters such as the global challenge of climate change, transnational Islamist terror networks, and the provision of justice through international organisations; as well as local political developments, such as the attempted military coup in Turkey and the peace-process in Colombia, the outline to this issue reads like a run-down of the most pressing topics and events that have hit the headlines in 2016.

What new insights does our issue bring to the analysis of these well-documented and widely covered processes and political developments? Our greatest asset, we think, is that we have assembled a group of authors who have either been directly involved in the socio-legal processes they analyse or who have followed them closely as long-time observers. This ‘insider perspective’, and a focus on the role that the law – in all of its forms – plays in these social processes, allows our authors to treat each topic in great depth and thus they offer cutting-edge socio-legal perspectives on questions of current public debate.

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current President of the Mary Robinson Foundation, sets the scene with a contribution on education and climate change. In her lecture on ‘Education for Climate Change Justice’, first delivered at Oxford’s Wolfson College on 19 May 2016, she explores the existing legal regime on sustainability and climate change within its wider social and scientific context. Drawing on her rich international experience, she puts forward a vision of how law can be an effective bridge between climate change and climate action and serve as a vehicle to achieve what she calls ‘climate justice’.

Robinson’s speech implicitly touches on the concept of the global commons, namely the idea that the oceans, the atmosphere, biodiversity, and natural resources are shared and owned by everyone, independently of the boundaries of the nation-state. Eve Darian-Smith explains how the idea of the global commons often clashes with western legal principles such as ‘property’ and ‘possession’. She explores such clashes by using the example of the Keystone XL Pipeline project in North America. There, ‘politics of resistance’ exercised by, for example, indigenous communities, are marking a shift in the debates surrounding the concepts of individual rights, property and national sovereignty vis-a-vis the constitution of a global commons.

Recently based at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Marissa R. Brodney examines some of the procedural challenges encountered by this organisation when attempting to deliver reparations to victims of mass atrocities. She investigates procedural debates with regards to reparation awards authorised by the ICC to illuminate tensions between criminal and transitional justice as well as between different institutional interests and mandates embedded in the ICC. To do so, she provides us with a detailed account of recent court decisions and filings regarding the administration of reparations in the Lubanga case. At the core of the on-going debate at the ICC, Brodney argues, is the need for the Court to effectively administer ‘reparative’ reparations, while at the same time providing for the rights of the accused. Different legal conceptualizations of reparations emerge as the most interesting conceptual by-product of this debate.

Tackling another issue of current public debate, Donald Holbrook explores the internal legalistic discourses which have emerged out of the power struggle between al-Qaida and the ‘Islamic State’ organisation. Examining their public statements and propaganda outputs, he uncovers how both extremist groups turn to legalistic rhetoric to convince their supporters of the legitimacy of their policies of warfare. His analysis shows how these groups have developed alternative notions of ‘just war’, or, in their case ‘just terror’, by putting forward their particular understandings of concepts such as ‘legitimate authority’ and ‘legitimate combat’.

Moving from global and transnational issues to current political developments within state-boundaries, Ali Erol analyses the recent Turkish coup attempt in July 2016. In his contribution to our Of Law and Society Today section, Ali explains the legal ramifications of the recent coup by placing it its socio-political and historical context. He explores the ‘no-man’s land’ between public law and political fact – the state of exception – to explain the interdependence of the country’s changing social-political structure and crucial shifts in its legal regime, which both allowed for the coup to happen and for it to be delegitimised.

In our Wire from the Field, Elena Butti takes us to Colombia, where she worked with war-affected children and adolescents. Elena embarked on her fieldwork at a time when peace and justice were high on the agenda of policy and law-makers, as demonstrated by the recent signing of the Colombian peace agreement. Her fieldwork revealed the need for socio-legal scholars to look beyond policy and neatly crafted legal texts and to look for the ‘invisible’, which, she proposes, lies in the daily experience of conflict and post-conflict of the researchers’ interlocutors. Against the background of the recent rejection of the peace agreement by Colombian voters, her account is particularly pertinent.

What brings this eclectic mix of contributors together, we believe, is the common interest of our authors in law and its relationship to current socio-political phenomena. Through this focus, our contributors are able to illuminate some of the complex and diverse ways in which law is used by a variety of actors and how it interacts within multifaceted socio-political contexts. In doing so, we hope that this collection of articles will not only offer novel, perhaps surprising, perspectives on some of the issues that currently shape public debate, but also provide new food for thought on the diverse roles that law and legal rhetoric plays in multi-layered socio-political processes.


Felix-Anselm van Lier and Matilde Gawronski

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