Making unity from and for diversity: The IEL Pop-Up Collection

IMG_1372.jpg

This post explores the role of the IEL Pop-Up Collection as part of the IEL Collective inaugural conference held at Warwick Law School in November 2019 (#IELCollective and #IELPopUpCollection).

The IEL Collective aims to work inclusively and collaboratively to ‘stimulate conversations about plurality, representation and criticality’ in the field of International Economic Law. It can be framed as a ‘prefigurative’ endeavour in the sense its participants seek to ‘perform present-day life in the terms that are wished-for’, both in order ‘to experience’ a ‘better’ present, and ‘to advance’ future ‘change’ (Cooper 2017).

To rethink an existing field of thinking and practice in this way requires that participants be at once:

  • Practical: addressing actors, interactions, rationalities and systems as they exist in the real world
  • Critical: identifying what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ with those actors, interactions, rationalities and systems
  • Imaginative: seeing what does not exist and how it might be created/prevented

When we work within these three constraints our thinking and practice is more likely to be constructive, rather than merely de(con)structive; concrete and relevant, rather than purely abstract or technical (Perry-Kessaris 2019).

To do so inclusively requires deep attention to material accessibility, especially by proactively addressing physical, financial and regulatory barriers to attendance.

To do so collaboratively entails an additional, productive, constraint: the need to achieve some degree of unity, not only from diversity, but also for diversity. It is only by bringing diverse conceptual frames, empirical examples and normative agendas into the same space that we can really respect, understand and use them in practical, critical and imaginative ways. Collaborative mindsets, tools and processes are not part of traditional legal scholarship and practice, but experience suggests that they can be introduced from design (Manzini 2015; Julier and Kimbell 2016; Perry-Kessaris and Perry 2019).

So the IEL Pop Up Collection was designed to ‘make unity from and for diversity’, visibly and tangibly, and with prefigurative spirit.

Before

Delegates were invited to bring with them to the conference an artefact (object or image) that you feel is relevant to your approach to, or understanding of, IEL’; that is either found or made, and that fits on an A5 page.

Most delegates had never met, and were unlikely to have engaged in such an activity in the past, but these barriers to engagement were offset by the context—that is, the warm, inclusive and non-hierarchical approach of the people at the heart of the Collective; and via specific social media prompts.

During

During the conference the artefacts were placed on designed A5 cards in the form of a grid. Arrows printed on the cards indicated possible points of contact or influence between the artefacts, and the approaches to or understandings of IEL that delegates intended them to represent. The collection grew, shrank, grew again and shifted to a new venue over the course of the two days, a quiet shifting presence.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Delegates were encouraged to handle and discuss the artefacts. The impact of the Collection, and indeed of the event, was extended through video tweets of such discussions.

After

The experiment was successful in generating a ‘structured-yet-free’ (Perry-Kessaris 2017, 2019) prefigurative space for practical, critical and imaginative thinking, both solitary and collective. That space was necessarily limited by the usual constraints of time and attention, all the more so in the context of the heady and transformative atmosphere of the wider IEL Collective conference.

It is hoped that that space will live on in the memories of delegates, and in its online traces; and that it may be reactivated at future IEL Collective events. And there will be time for wider, contemplation as those interested in the IEL Collective, whether or not they were able to attend the IEL Collective conference, will be invited to contribute their artefacts, together with a 500 word commentary, to an online collection similar to the Pop-Up Museum of Legal Objects (See Perry-Kessaris 2017).

This experiment drew on design-based strategies of emphasising communication and experimentation, and making things visible and tangible (Perry-Kessaris 2019); on event design principles around generating engagement and inclusion before, during and after events (Perry-Kessaris 2017); and on numerous previous events, many of which are documented in the Legal Treasure Project. It is part of a wider Leverhulme-funded project on Doing Sociolegal Research in Design Mode, to be published in monograph form by Routledge in 2020. Thanks to the Socio-Legal Studies Association for pilot funding.

References

Cooper (2017) ‘Prefiguring the state’ 49:2 Antipode 335

Cooper, D. (2018) ‘Acting as if law reform options were already on the table’. FLAG Blog. Accessed 9 November 2019.

Legal Treasure Project. Available at: https://legaltreasure.wordpress.com

Julier, G. and Kimbell, L. (2016) Co-producing social futures through design research. Brighton: University of Brighton.

Manzini (2015) Design, when everybody designs MIT Press.

Perry-Kessaris, A and Perry, J (2019) ‘Enhancing participatory strategies with designerly ways for sociolegal impact: Lessons from research aimed at making hate crime visible in Europe’. Available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3387479

Perry-Kessaris, A (2019) ‘Legal design for practice, activism, policy and research’ 46:2 Journal of Law and Society185-210 Available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3295671

Perry-Kessaris, A (2017) ‘The pop-up museum of legal objects project: an experiment in “sociolegal design”’ 68:2 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly Special Issue on the Pop-Up Museum of Legal Objects 225-44. Available athttps://ssrn.com/abstract=3278248