DPhil in Family Law: Q and A with Dr Clara Chapdelaine-Feliciati

Dr C FDPhil in Family Law: Dr Clara Chapdelaine-Feliciati


What was the title of your DPhil research and what was your research about?

The thesis was on the status of the girl child under International Law. In my DPhil, I applied legal semiotics and significs theory as a framework to explore the content of international treaties, with a focus on the girl child. My thesis constituted the first application of the novel ‘semioethics’ legal theory to deconstruct the meaning of treaty provisions and recommend amendments and revisions.

Who was your supervisor? 

Professor Jonathan Herring, whose expertise in Child and Family Law was invaluable to my research.

Did your previous degrees and qualifying as a lawyer help your research?

Prior to joining Oxford, I completed my trans-systemic Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) at McGill University in Montreal (Canada) as well as a diploma in French Civil Law and European Law at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Human Rights at King’s College London. This training in the two main legal traditions – civil law and Common Law - was essential to examine the implementation of international standards in monist and dualist states. Also, having qualified as a Barrister and Solicitor with the Law Society of Ontario in Canada and served at the International Criminal Court-ICC, Office of the Prosecutor, Prosecution Division, in the Katanga-Ngudjolo Chui case of the DRC, enabled me to bring a practical perspective to the study of the international legal framework.

How did you think of your DPhil research topic? 

My DPhil research was greatly inspired by the professional experience I acquired at the UNICEF Office of Research, the International Bureau for Children’s Rights-IBCR, the ICC, the Court of Quebec Youth division, the Tribunal de Bobigny in Paris, France, and working with street youth in Montreal. At UNICEF, I acted as Child Rights Officer and was entrusted with several research projects, including the Handbook on the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2009); and at the IBCR, I directed the Pan-Canadian Research Study on Child Trafficking. During this time, I observed that international as well as domestic institutions tended to examine children and women as homogeneous groups and thereby failed to address the specific obstacles faced by girl children in exercising their rights.

Did teaching and lecturing help your DPhil research?

Definitely! I taught International Human Rights Law at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, as Adjunct Faculty, before completing my DPhil, and this gave me the opportunity to delve into other areas of international law, as well as refer to recent jurisprudence and developments. Also, preparing for the weekly seminars and providing guidance to J.D. and LL.M. students as they wrote their final papers and LLM written requirements, in terms of research question, methodology, and structure, allowed me to see ‘the other side’ of student supervision, and to learn with and from my students.

What is the importance of this project and what are its outcomes?

My DPhil research led to two books: Feminicides of Girl Children in the Family Context (Brill: Leiden 2018), and a forthcoming manuscript The Status of the Girl Child under International Law with Cambridge University Press; as well as publications on gendercide (Cambridge International Law Journal 2018), reservations in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 2021), and the complex semiotics of English and French as Authentic Languages in International Law (International Journal of Legal Discourse 2020).

I also had the opportunity to present my research at several international conferences, including as Keynote Speaker at the International Conference on Media Literacy at the Communication University of China in Beijing (2019), and in a ‘Master Lecture’ at the International Association for Semiotic Studies Conference at the National University of Political Studies in Bucharest, Romania (2018). Additionally, I presented papers at the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics (Toronto 2018), the International Roundtables (KU Leuven Faculty of Law, Belgium, 2021; University of Coimbra Faculty of Law, Portugal 2019), Canadian Congress of the Humanities & Social Sciences Industrial Relations Association (2017), Women’s and Gender Studies Conference (2021) and Association for Work and Labour Studies (2021), as well as seminars in French, Italian and English at the universities of Bari, Naples, Turin, Oxford, McGill and UBC, among others.

How has your DPhil research continued to feature in your current research interests and projects?

I am currently conducting, as Principal Investigator, a legal and bilingual (English-French) research study on Girl Children in the Entertainment Industry in Canada from a legal semiotics perspective, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant. I’m also contributing a book chapter to the Bloomsbury Companion to Semiotics on Semiotics in Law and Jurisprudence (forthcoming 2022) as well as a chapter on the Meaning-Intention behind the Best Interests of the Child Principle in Emotions in Translation: An Inter-Semiotic Approach (Routledge 2021).

Also, I co-founded the Girls’ Studies Research Network (2019) at York University, Toronto, Canada, to bring together academic researchers, practitioners, and graduate and undergraduate students working in girls' studies in all disciplines and interdisciplinary fields. In this context, I co-organized the Girls’ Studies: The State of the Art Pan-Canadian Panel at Congress 2021. I have been serving on the Editorial Boards in my field of research, such as the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law/Revue internationale de sémiotique juridique, and the Southern Semiotic Review.

How does researching as an Assistant Professor differ from researching during your DPhil?

Upon returning to Canada, I was appointed Assistant Professor at Glendon College, York University, Toronto, where I teach International Law in both English and French, and am a Faculty Member of the Osgoode Hall Law School Graduate Program in Law, the York and Ryerson Universities joint Communication and Culture Graduate Program, the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs, and the Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies Graduate Program. One of the main differences with the DPhil is that as Assistant Professor, and thanks to the SSHRC Insight Development Grant, I get to supervise and mentor graduate and undergraduate research assistants, which I greatly enjoy.

Where can people find more information about your work?

My publications are available on the following York University link: https://www.glendon.yorku.ca/faculty-profile-details/?currentuserid=791593

Girls’ Studies Research Network, York University: https://www.yorku.ca/cfr/girls-studies-research-network/