Ordering the Anthropocene: Law & the Environment in the Indian Ocean World

Ordering the Anthropocene: Law & the Environment in the Indian Ocean World

Debjani Bhattacharyya, Drexel University; Laurie Wood, Florida State University
Drexel University
Philadelphia, PA
United States
From - Until
04.10.2019 - 05.10.2019
Debjani Bhattacharyya

What can historians of law achieve from engaging with their colleagues studying environmental changes over time? How have emerging regulatory regimes (imperial, property-oriented, maritime, medical, etc.) joined the domains of science and law in new ways? And how can legal historians retool their methods to study deep histories of landscape transformations and climate? These questions are especially pertinent for the Indian Ocean region, where these concerns have both past and contemporary relevance: e.g. rising sea levels in the Maldives and Andaman Islands; coastal erosion and disputes over new-land formation along the littorals of Bay of Bengal; island-building in Singapore (with sand from Gulf states); disaster relief following the 2004 tsunami and earthquake, which especially affected Indonesia and Malaysia; food security around the Horn of Africa; and some of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

Time shapes the traffic in what constitutes truth in these two broad disciplinary arenas. Legal historians typically analyze cases, each with a specific lifespan of years or decades. Environmental phenomena, by contrast, often span centuries or even geological epochs. We propose a workshop to address the temporality of expertise and evidence which will bring legal historians whose disciplinary focus is bounded by the temporality of a case, together with environmental historians and historians of science who are increasingly doing histories of deep-time. For instance, when legal historians study regulatory regimes of intellectual property to material cultures. It works with an anthropogenic lifespan: copyrights, patents, objects, labor, commodities. Whereas environmental phenomenon, which are increasingly entering regulatory domains, work with long timescales spanning geological, seasonal and solar temporalities. As states are beginning to exert regulatory powers increasingly in legal and scientific regimes, the legal timescale of a case is getting entangled in deep historical timescales.

We invite abstracts for an exploratory workshop, where we will discuss articles/chapters in progress and which have not been submitted for publication. Articles which are in preliminary review stages are welcome, but not those in galley proofs. The purpose of the workshop is to receive comments and feedback on works in progress with the possibility for incorporating the discussions of the workshop. The presenters will be paired with senior discussants who will offer feedback on their articles/chapters and then open it up for discussion. Presenters will be required to submit their articles/chapters of 8000 words and no more than 12,000 words by 30 August 2019. All presenters and discussants will be required to read the articles beforehand which will be made available through a secure dropbox account. We will also conduct a half-day field-trip on October 5th. The purpose of the workshop is to:

- Bring together senior and junior scholars of law and/or environment who are working in the newly-vibrant field of Indian Ocean World history.

- Generate a methodological conversation between legal historians and historians of environment and science anchored on the category of time and how differing notions shape practices of evidence selection, gathering and testimony in the court and laboratory.

The workshop will consist of 4 panels, with 2 presenters in each panel. We will pair legal historians with historians of environment to explore how common terminology around evidence, witness, reason, expertise is affected by concepts of time that are distinct in each discipline. We welcome papers exploring the following questions broadly:

- Where does law/do legal regimes collide with the material world?

- Where/when/how/why do natural phenomena become entangled in ordering regimes?

- How do these relationships (re)configure the human as social (e.g. relational, hierarchical, vocal) and material (e.g. embodied, constrained by lifespan, etc.)?

Application Instructions

Interested applicants should submit a 300-word abstract and short c.v. to the conveners by 15 May 2019: Debjani Bhattacharyya (db893@drexel.edu) and Laurie Wood (lmwood@fsu.edu ). Article-length papers (8,000-10,000 words) will be due for circulation among participants and invited commentators by 30 August 2019. Domestic airfare, accommodation, and most meals will be provided thanks to support from the American Society for Legal History and Drexel University.


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Debjani Bhattacharyya

Laurie Wood

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