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Emille Boulot, Anna Grear, Joshua Sterlin and Iván Darío Vargas-Roncancio

In 2020, a single virus changed many of the worlds in which humans live. From restrictions on immigration, movement and gatherings, to changes to public health policy, through to economics and housing, the SARS- CoV-2 virus restructured laws and lives. It also changed our more-than-human siblings’ worlds: some took the opportunity to roam into the quiet of the relatively human-free spaces produced by lockdown, some provided company to their humans working from home, and some, too, were susceptible to the virus.

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Posthuman Legalities

New Materialism and Law Beyond the Human

Edited by Anna Grear, Emille Boulot, Iván D. Vargas-Roncancio and Joshua Sterlin

How might law address the multiple crises of meaning intrinsic to global crises of climate, poverty, mass displacements, ecological breakdown, species extinctions and technological developments that increasingly complicate the very notion of 'life' itself? How can law embrace — in other words —the 'posthuman' condition — a condition in which non-human forces such as climate change and Covid-19 signal the impossibility of clinging to the existing imaginaries of Western legal systems and international law? This carefully curated book addresses these and related questions, bringing 'law beyond the human' (drawing on Indigenous legalities, life ways and ontologies) and New Materialist and Posthuman/ist approaches into stimulating proximity to each other.
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Danielle Celermajer and Anne Therese O’Brien

Drawing on the emerging field of multispecies justice, this article seeks to understand how the idea of transitional justice, capaciously understood, might be put to work to transform unjust relations between humans and the more-than-human. Reflecting on concerns in the literatures on animals and the environment concerning the cogency of addressing past wrongs against the more-than-human by using a justice framework, the article sets out a foundational agenda for transitional justice and a conceptual framework responsive to the ontological diversity of beings and communities other than humans. Focusing on soil specifically, the article explores the problem of developing transitional justice approaches for transforming relations that involve systemic violence where such violence is not acknowledged because the harmed being – soil – is not recognized as the type of community to which justice might be owed. To illustrate proto-transitional justice, the article considers both the work of regenerative farmers and emergent collaborations between farmers and visual artists to explore how engagements with the arts of relating to the more-than-human might move the as yet private transformations of relations with soil into a more public, albeit incipient, process of justice.

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Nick J Fox and Pam Alldred

In this article, we theorize and develop a posthumanist and new materialist approach to sustainable development policy. We trace a humanist and anthropocentric emphasis in policy discussions of ‘sustainable’ development that reaches back almost 50 years, and still underpins recent United Nations (UN) statements. This UN approach has tied policies to counter environmental challenges such as anthropogenic climate change firmly to sustaining and extending future human prosperity. By contrast, we chart a path beyond humanism and anthropocentrism, to establish a posthumanist environmentalism. This acknowledges human matter as an integral (rather than opposed) element within an all-encompassing ‘environment’. Posthumanism simultaneously rejects the homogeneity implied by terms such as ‘humanity’ or ‘human species’, as based on a stereotypical ‘human’ that turns out to be white, male and from the global North. Instead, ‘posthumans’ are heterogeneous, gaining a diverse range of context-specific capacities with other matter. Some of these capacities (such as empathy, altruism, conceptual thinking and modelling futures) are highly unusual and – paradoxically – may be key to addressing the current crises of environmental degradation and anthropogenic climate change.

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Emille Boulot, Anna Grear, Joshua Sterlin and Iván Darío Vargas-Roncancio

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Matt Harvey and Steve Vanderheiden

When Christopher Stone argued for the extension of legal standing to natural objects, he proposed a guardianship model for representing the rights or interests of nonhuman nature. This approach requires that natural objects or systems be able to intelligibly communicate information regarding needs associated with their continued sustainable flourishing. Drawing upon both ‘law beyond the human’ approaches to legal theory and New Materialist theories about nonhuman subjectivity, we conceive of this mode of communication as a political speech act, albeit one that must be interpreted through eco-feedback collected in the study of natural systems rather than directly transmitted from speaker to listener. We then apply this conception of communication to human rights contexts in which efforts to distort or to otherwise manipulate this eco-feedback could be construed as an anti-democratic interference in speech rights, arguing for the extension of such rights to protect against such interference.

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Emily Jones

Both posthuman theory and the rights of nature (RoN) movement have the potential to challenge the anthropocentrism of international environmental law (IEL). Scholars have begun to document the transformative shifts that could occur through the application of posthuman legal theory to IEL, but these theories have yet to be applied to law in practice. On the other hand, RoN have been applied in domestic law but hardly in international law, while the question of what RoN includes and excludes remains contested.

This article brings posthuman theory and RoN together, reflecting on how posthuman legal theory can contribute to the framing of RoN, with a focus on challenging the anthropocentrism of IEL. The article argues, first, that the next step for posthuman legal theory will be its application to existing law. Noting convergences between posthuman legal theory and the rights of nature (RoN), the article contends that those seeking to apply posthuman legal theory might find some interesting alliances by turning to RoN. Second, it is argued that using posthuman theory to frame RoN could help to ensure that RoN live up to their transformative potential.

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Teresa Dillon

This article explores what it means to enact multispecies relations in urban space. This exploration is rooted in contemporary art practices that create living frameworks through which encounters with non-human animal cultures, histories, rituals and justice are manifested. Such works play with the legalities and categorizations of ‘animal’ and ‘nature’ by exposing the nested reasonings and protocols that continue to propagate hierarchical species logics. Consequentially such work, alongside scholarship on earth-bound legalities, looks to how law can foster more just multispecies orderings, which aspire to create more equitable conditions for all. To scaffold such transitions the article makes the case for how a constant, public, educational and social rehearsal that unknots histories of liberal individualism is required in order to shift the ontological position of the human species. This rehearsal is set against the backdrop of climate emergencies and the call for a more expansive notion of the urban commons. The closing reflections point to how the Earth’s inviolability must necessarily be placed at the centre of an approach to urban making that is complemented by an intersectional set of innovative cosmologies, actions, manners and ways.

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Margaret Davies

Two concepts that bridge the nature-human divide may help to diagnose and address some of the present and future problems of eco-social change in a legal context. ‘Fragmentation’ refers to loss and degradation of the habitat of nonhuman life. It is also a useful concept for understanding the fracturing of the material conditions for human life in a modern globalised world. The notion of ‘metabolic rift’, derived from Marx by John Bellamy Foster, refers to a break in the human-nonhuman circulation of natural materials, brought on by industrial agriculture and urbanisation. These related ideas provide a frame for exploring the connections between social and environmental justice and the role played by legal forms such as private property. In keeping with the imperative to re-form legal concepts to account for eco-social existence, the article presents a view of property as human and nonhuman habitat. This approach aims to use law to help recreate the conditions for the constructive inter-dependence of social and environmental goods.

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Marie-Catherine Petersmann

This article rethinks the doctrines of responsibility and protection in international environmental law in light of notions of response-abilities and care in more-than-human worlds. Inspired by the intersecting strands of new materialist, relational and posthuman literatures, and informed by critiques of them by decolonial, indigenous and black scholars, the analysis works with onto-epistemologies of becoming that posit an inseparability of being, knowing and acting with(in) the Anthropocene/s. Through the notion of response-abilities of care, the article reconfigures how the destructive and the restorative relations between humans and nonhumans could be construed beyond a narrow understanding of state sovereignty, territorial jurisdiction, liberal human-centred notions of individuated agency and the strict causal nexus between victim and perpetrator. The analysis concludes by reflecting on how law could remain open to emergent, unfolding and contingent potentialities of entangled human-nonhuman relations, and questions law’s capacity to recognize and respond to the agency and alterity of nonhumans. These configurations exceed the schema of responsibility and protection that organizes even international environmental law’s most progressive theories and practices, such as granting ‘rights to nature’.