"The Anxiety of Unfinalizability: Legal Activism, Judicial Ethics and the Problem of Justice," Jessica Greenberg (Anthropology), Unit for Criticism Distinguished Faculty Lecture

02/18/2019 - 5:00pm
Lincoln Hall 1090

Introduction by Andrew Orta (Anthropology; CLACS)
Response by Chantal Nadeau (GWS)

This talk takes up the question of how human rights judges, lawyers and activists, experience the efficacy of legal institutions. I draw on ethnographic research at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The Court is often characterized as the world’s most “successful” human rights court, based on the huge number of cases it hears, it’s robust case law, and the relatively high rates of compliance among the 47 Council of Europe member states, for whom the Court’s rulings are legally binding. Within this context, I ask: what does “success” look like? What affective states and semiotic forms underpin how people experience a shared sense of the efficacy of human rights law? I argue that the Court offers a material and ideological terrain in which people architect a sense of agentive capacity and generate a shared framework for the experience of “success.” At the same time, the heterogeneity of expectations combined with the open-ended nature of legal reason and praxis frequently produces a sense of the “unfinalizability” of the law.  I argue this terrain of action and uncertainty is constitutive of anxious legal subjects in an age of heightened political uncertainty in contemporary Europe.