Presenting at the Social Legal Studies Association Annual Conference

Sophia Taha, Socio-legal Studies, Keele University (2019 Cohort) 

Every year since its foundation in 1990, the Social Legal Studies Association holds a conference which moves around and is hosted by different universities. This year it was hosted at York University.

As an association it has a specific aim:  ‘for the public benefit to advance education and learning in the field of socio legal studies and to promote research, the useful results of which shall be published for the public benefit, teaching and the dissemination of knowledge in the field’ (source SLSA website) This is reflected in that the event is open to attendees from academia as well as practitioners working in the legal professions, third sector organisations and charities. With the ongoing impact of Covid-19 taken into consideration it was run in a hybrid format (online and in person) and this was the first time I attended. The hybrid format was perfect, not just for Covid considerations but because in-person events can be very intense, particularly if you are engaging with them and have neurodiverse needs.

My experience presenting

I am always quite nervous sitting in the “legal” side of my interdisciplinary PhD, I often feel a bit academically homeless, but the wonderful thing about this conference was that it was a real combination of anyone who fit under the broad umbrella of “socio-legal”. Everyone was welcoming, with commenting and feedback in panels done kindly.  The socialising via the Wednesday morning of PGR events, coffees throughout the conference and the formal dinner on Thursday evening was lovely. This was particularly impactful given how hard it has been to connect with people in online only conferences.

I submitted to present at two streams, assuming perhaps that only one would be accepted and so was delighted (and scared!) to end up presenting in two streams on the same day.

In the morning I presented my paper as part of the ‘Social Rights, Citizenship and the Welfare State’ stream. This stream explored changes in welfare states internationally, looking at the welfare state in the context of rising inequality and debates about migration and. I presented a paper titled, ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’: A Postcolonial Feminist Exploration, which combines Mbembé’s necropolitics and Krishnadas’ ‘Transformative Methodology’ to explore the intersectional needs of migrant women who have an immigration status which includes ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’. It is still a work in progress and was drawing on an idea I had submitted in paper form to a journal last year. The opportunity to listen to feedback from the room, to be told that there is something here that is interesting, and to just talk to around 20 people that are interested in what can often feel a very niche topic was brilliant. It was a wonderful and kind space to present in.

In the afternoon I had my second paper, a nervous event for me as I was on a panel with the wonderful Dr Foluke Ifejola Adebisi, someone whose work I greatly admire. This stream was called “Empire, Colonialism and Law” and it explored the relationship between law and socio-economic, political, and cultural empire(s), with emphasis on colonial and post-colonial structures. This paper represents an ongoing sticking point in my PhD thoughts, and I presented it in a form last summer at the EIWS International Relations conference, but to present this ongoing thought to a Law conference setting definitely brought about new approaches as well. It would be an understatement to say I was nervous; I also definitely lost my place a little and fluffed my words! The title of this paper was, ‘Postcolonial Resistance to U.K. Bureaucracy: Can citizenship ever overcome its colonial and racialized legacy?’ and it explores the conflict of doing work within the current U.K legal systems. It looks at the work of El-Enany and Grabham to try and explore this conflict, and at the end of the presentation, my answer at the moment is “no”, in the rights-based space that we have to occupy to get basic material access for clients, we are stuck in the racialised and colonial legacy of citizenship. I’d like to develop this idea further, and I’m always hopeful that I will feel more positive by the end of my PhD and be able to answer, “maybe” instead.

Overall experience

The event was really well attended, online and in person. It was well run, and York is a beautiful place to be based.  The hybrid format meant that for me, someone who has to navigate disabilities I was able to access the conference both in person and online. I spent Wednesday morning in person and then went home to my accommodation to sign in and listen to speakers online, this was a perfect compromise, so I wasn’t overwhelmed. This ability to attend in both formats meant that my very full-on day on Thursday when I was presenting twice, was manageable.

The conference was a really wonderful opportunity, I got to see people I admire and follow via twitter, in person. I got to learn by listening to amazing ongoing research. I found like-minded people who also think academia isn’t quite reaching its full potential sometimes. Sometimes we miss opportunities to work with stakeholders more, and whilst I have a lucky position of working weekly with my research partner and clients, simple things like offering greater opportunities with cheap or free access to conferences for stakeholders would make an amazing difference. My only disappointment was one that we often see in large conferences, you miss so much that you would love to listen to but can’t because so many panels occur in parallel.

Next year the SLSA is 4–6 April 2023 held at Ulster University, and I highly recommend attending it if you can. Don’t be nervous to present, your audience is a kind one and you will come away with some good conference buddies and a list of new reading to do.

Their website is here:

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