The Westminster Law and the Senses Series

The series is dedicated to the study of law and the senses, aiming to reflect critically on how law deals with senses, how law senses, and how law makes sense. This involves thinking, discussing and questioning the sound of law, the tactile encounter with its forms, its bitter/sweet taste, its pungent smell, its perspectival gaze.

What is the relationship of law to the senses? In a sense, law, the anaesthetic par excellence, is constantly engaged in numbing the senses into commonsense; manipulating, channelling and controlling the sensible; inserting properties and forbidding contacts; dissimulating violence, regulating sounds and defining taste.

However, senses are not static. Rather, they are shifting and elusive qualities, constantly reshuffled by socio-cultural and technological changes, always dislocating Law’s normativity towards new potentialities. In this other sense, Law emerges from the senses, and whereas senses are a constant arena of legal machinations, they are also Law’s constant blind spot and inescapable excess. Is there then a legal sensing, an illegal sensing, or even perhaps a sensing beyond the Law? How does Law sense? Can Law hear, taste, smell, touch, see? Can Law indulge in sensual pleasures, or is it confined to the anaesthetic arena of common sense? Can senses be a tool to use, know and study Law better? Would this make Law more ‘sensible’, or instead more suffocating?

The Law and Senses gathers trans-disciplinary contributions which aim to critically investigate the sensing of law, the capacity for law to (make) sense, and the possibility for Law to sense differently. The series encompasses five issues, Taste, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Vision, followed by further issues on synaesthesia, sixth sense, sense and sensuality and so on.

Issue One: Taste

This first issue of the Law and the Senses series deals with the sense of taste. Although perhaps non self-evident, there is a tight kinship between law and taste, primarily for the fact of sharing the same core mechanism: judgement. To taste is always to embark into a discriminating judgement over what is good and what is not. Likewise, law's relentless juridification of the world, i.e. the reduction of the world into legal categories, could be understood as a digestive process according to which law ingests its ‘outside’ (that is, what law presupposes as its outside) by tasting it, and emitting moral judgements accordingly.

This issue addresses taste as a tool whereby pushing law beyond the narrow confines into which it often perceives itself. Through these three contributions, we are offered as many compelling attempts to rethink our relation to objects and space, to reformulate the question of judgement as tentative, processual and contextual tasting, and to open up law from inside, disclosing the geo-philosophical fact of its openness to justice in the here and now.

Download Issue One: Taste (PDF format)

Issue Two: Smell

The Law and the Senses series continues with taste’s neighbouring sense — smell. Smells are invisible, intangible and transitory, but despite their elusive quality they are intrinsically normative. Although hardly graspable by law, they both share the potential to perform the same acts of unification and division when constructing normative spaces. It is along these lines that this series engages with the olfactory: not as law’s object of regulation, but as a means through which the law performs, actualises, perpetuates and materialises itself. Smell exposes to view, it airs the way in which law conceptualises and contextualises its own actuality. Smell brings law forth by allowing it to show its underbelly, its elusive sense-making that is invariably sacrificed to the necessity of legal constancy. However, smell’s fragmentary, discontinuous and unstable nature, despite all the ordering that goes to it, poses a peculiar challenge to the law. This issue sets out to investigate this juncture.

Download Issue Two: Smell (PDF format)

Issue Three: Touch

Following Taste and Smell, this issue explores the sense of touch in relation to the law and normativity. Described by Aristotle as the most vital and intelligent of the senses, touch contains both the physical and metaphysical in its ability to express the determination of being. To manifest itself, touch relies on a precise and active bodily/physical involvement that other senses do not require: to touch is already to be active and to activate. This fundamental ontology makes touch the most essential of all senses.

Touch is deeply immersed in the here and now without being subject to spatio-temporal limitations. It refuses all representations, for its being can only exist within itself. However, Law’s temporality and representativeness are constantly open to negotiation and reinterpretation, thus making it reliant on a widely shared sense of collectiveness. With compelling contributions by Naomi Segal, Jan Hogan, Moritz Von Stetten and Michelle LeBaron, this issue attempts to look at this discrepancy and reconsiders the relation between the tactful intrusiveness of the law and the untactful movement of touch.

Download Issue Three: Touch (PDF format)

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