La Trobe Law Academics at the 2015 Law, Literature and Humanities Conference

The Law, Literature and the Humanities Association of Australasia Conference will take place from 9 to 12 December 2015 at University of Technology Sydney Law School. The theme of this years conference is ‘Complicities’. La Trobe Law School academics, Associate Professor Lee Ann Basser, Marc Trabsky and Dr Laura Griffin, will each present a paper during this three-day conference.


Parenting, Disability and the Family Justice System – Unraveling Law’s Promise and Law’s Complicity

By Associate Professor Lee Ann Basser

Law plays an important role in formulating ideology and in constructing disability through the inclusion or exclusion of people with disabilities in or from the ordinary analysis and application of law (Jones & Basser). This paper explores the way in which law is complicit in labeling and excluding people with disabilities from their roles as parents, imposing ‘normate’ values through the application of the facially neutral ‘best interests principle’ that has at it’s heart the highly desirable goal of protecting and promoting the well being of the child. The paper will start with Law’s promise of dignity, rights and equality for people with disabilities as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and will explore the effect of the family justice system’s narratives and processes in the every day lives of people with disabilities.

Law, Death and Aesthetics: The Visual Regime of the Coroner’s Office

By Marc Trabsky

This paper examines how the dead dwell in the coroner’s office through the use of the legal form of the death mask. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the technology of the mask was utilised by different social institutions to form technical relations with the dead. These institutions included galleries, museums, hospitals, morgues, the police and courts. While each institution used the death mask in different ways, this paper suggests that its use in the death investigation process enabled the dead to appear and speak to the living. Indeed, I will suggest that in the coronial jurisdiction, the dead appeared before a forum of law through the adoption of the death mask. The dead were projected onto inanimate sculptural objects, but at the same time these objects expressed a distinctive persona. This paper considers the development of the death mask as a legal technique that conditioned the possibility of the dead to appear and speak before the law. I will examine specifically the history of the forensic use of death masks in gathering evidence during death investigations, their aesthetic use in identifying the dead and their ritualistic use in memorialising the dead in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This paper gestures towards the complicity of forensic and aesthetics techniques in granting subjectivity to the dead before a forum of law.

A Life Counted: Birth Registration as Complicity with the Modern Legal Order

By Dr Laura Griffin

“I looked at the envelope one last time, and dropped it into the mailbox. “That’s it.” I turned to my 8-week-old daughter. “I’m sorry, bub, you’re in the system now.” Perhaps she had been in the system since we transferred to hospital during labour. Even before that – since I had first seen a health professional while pregnant. And yet, registering my daughter’s birth felt different. I had waited until the last official minute to sign and post the form, my reluctance born of a feeling that this ritual of officialdom was somehow unique and irreversible. The beginning of a relationship between my infant and the state, that she would never escape. Registering her birth, her presence in the world, I felt complicit with state-building in a way I had never experienced before.”

This paper explores the history of birth registration in Australia, tracing the transition from colonial systems of membership in empire, to modern bureaucratic practices of citizenship, and the 2013 law reform report on birth registration and birth certificates focused on facilitating universal registration. Birth registration is also shown as playing a key role in international law, with human rights and health discourses stressing the need for people to be counted, in order to count. Dr Laura Griffin concludes by reflecting on the practice of birth registration as an act of complicity with this modern legal order.

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