Australia’s political and economic system is built on exploitation. From the violent foundational occupation of Indigenous lands, to the ongoing denial of Indigenous sovereignty over those lands; from the destructive extraction of natural resources, to the profound devaluation of the care work that sustains human life and non-human nature; from dependence on the cheap and precarious labour that sustains complex global value chains, to the inequality generated by credit-fuelled asset acquisition: across these and many other domains, the exploitative structures of Australia’s political economy are plain to see.
Significantly, those structures are at least partially maintained and legitimated through legal arrangements. The bases of those arrangements span the entire law school curriculum: property, contracts, torts, administrative law, constitutional law, corporations law, equity, criminal law, jurisprudence, labour law, international law, and much else. As legal academics, we believe that providing students with the tools to understand and critique the legal arrangements underpinning Australia’s political economy should be a central goal of legal education. Such an approach is also being demanded by a growing proportion of our students. Their concern reflects the fact that many young adults feel excluded from old expectations of prosperity and perpetual growth, and from a political economic system built upon them. At the same time, legal education leaves many students dissatisfied, as it frequently does not provide them with the tools and vocabularies they seek to articulate their frustrations and work toward their resolution.
The Australian legal academy has a long and vibrant, if turbulent, history of critical legal research and pedagogy. However, the relationship between these two dimensions of academic work is often strained. First, the wealth of critical legal work produced here does not always carry over into teaching, which often re-mains anchored in formalist, rule-centred understandings of law and subordinated to the (perceived) needs of vocational training. This reality often finds critically minded academics running conventional core law courses. Secondly, while critical legal work in Australia has produced indispensable insights into settler colonialism, racism, colonial modernity, and patriarchy, work focused on ideology, aesthetics, and culture has come to predominate, with less attention given to the material underpinnings of these phenomena. Critiques of the Australian legal system that centre questions of production, circulation and distribution, class inequality, material deprivation and interests, have less readily found a place in core law curricula.
We believe that teaching itself can be a valuable source of original thinking about the law, and that this generation of students is owed as rigorous a critical education as any other, if not more so. We also believe that valuable practices of heterodox teaching about the law and its role in the construction, reproduction and contestation of Australian settler capitalism are already in practice in law classrooms around the country.
Accordingly, we are organising a symposium to share such practices and to facilitate their development and proliferation. We are particularly interested in contributions that explore:
- The history of critical legal education in Australia from a political economic perspective;
- Indigenous legal orders and the political economy of settler law;
- The impact of national and international political economy on Australian legal education (content and structure);
- Contemporary examples of courses that adopt a progressive political economic lens;
- Practical recommendations on how to incorporate progressive insights on political economy into the Priestley Eleven and other commonly compulsory courses (for example, legal theory or international law);
- Comparative insights, especially with other settler colonies/common law jurisdictions/Pacific states.
Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be submitted by the 30th of June 2022 to Ntina Tzouvala (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please write ‘Teaching Material’ in the subject line. Limited financial assistance may be available upon request, and priority will be given to casual academic workers.
The symposium will take place on 29 and 30 November 2022 hosted by the Julius Stone Institute of Jurisprudence at Sydney Law School. We are currently envisaging that the event will take place exclusively in person. The symposium will be accompanied by a launch event for Australian Progressive Legal Studies, a network which aims to centre progressive political economic re-thinking of legal research and legal pedagogy in Australia.
- Coel Kirkby, University of Sydney
- Dylan Lino, University of Queensland
- Eddie Synot, Griffith University
- Ntina Tzouvala, Australian National University