DLDG - Week 7: Decolonisation and Legal Knowledge: An Anthropocene Judgments Experiment

Event date
28 February 2024
Event time
12:00 - 13:30
Oxford week
HT 7


Secured ownership of land and legal control over underwater resources was and continues to be essential to enacting colonial conditions that persist into the present and are exemplified by a lack of harmonious respect for all life, nature, and the earth. This contrasts with indigenous knowledge systems. For example, in Andean indigenous thought, “pacha” describes global space-time and Pachamama is the earth [land and water] as well as a goddess from whom all life emerges (Cuestas-Caza 2018: 50; Humphreys 2017: 459-484; Jenkins 2015: 442-460). These types of philosophies do not place the human above the earth in importance. Conversely, anthropocentrism in Euro-modern legal knowledge has meant that the law has thus far proven insufficient to protect the earth from the result of harmful human activity – especially activity connected to the accumulation of capital. This is because Euro-modern legal knowledge often prioritises and is fashioned to protect and regulate the accumulation of capital over and above respect for all life and the earth. Consequently, knowledges beyond Euro-modern law that do not suffer from these predilections may provide us with a better lens to rethink environmental protection for the future.  

This paper is part of my series of reflective works that seeks to unsettle the Anthropocene. Using [among others] the frameworks of Black/African Science Fiction, Indigenous Knowledge, Earth Laws, and anticolonial logics, these reflections imagine the sea and its inhabitants as central to the legal imaginary. Therefore, this paper, relying on ideas from the law and literature movement, takes Gregson v Gilbert (1783), as its starting point, to consider what justice for environmental damage will look like from the perspective of the ocean. It will also explore what metaphors based on this perspective are ideal to unsettle the centrality of humanity to our understanding of justice. The Anthropocene brings with it new challenges and thus requires new thinking within the law to handle those challenges. The need for new thinking is significant in light of the legal disruptiveness of climate change as well as law’s complicity in heralding the advent of the Anthropocene. Thus, it is important to note law’s role both as structural underpinning of the human activity that shepherds in the Anthropocene and also as hope for deliverance from its effects.

Suggested Readings

  • Adebisi, Foluke I. "The Sea Casts Its Net of Justice Wide: A Speculative Judgment for What Has Been Left to the Waters of Despair."  pp. 59-71 In Rogers, N. and Maloney, M. eds., 2023. The Anthropocene Judgments Project: Futureproofing the Common Law. Taylor & Francis.
  • Adebisi, Foluke, Decolonisation and Legal Knowledge: Reflections on Power and Possibility. BRISTOL University Press, 2023.  
  • Adebisi, Foluke. "Black/African Science Fiction and the Quest for Racial Justice through Legal Knowledge: How Can We Unsettle Euro-modern Time and Temporality in Our Teaching?." Law, Tech. & Hum. 4 (2022): 24.  
  • Cuestas-Caza, Javier. "Sumak Kawsay is not Buen Vivir." Alternautas 5(1) (2018): 49-63. 
  • Humphreys, David. "Rights of Pachamama: The Emergence of an Earth Jurisprudence in the Americas." Journal of International Relations and Development 20(3) (2017): 459-484.  
  • Jenkins, Katy. "Unearthing Women's Anti‐Mining Activism in the Andes: Pachamama and the “Mad Old Women”." Antipode 47(2) (2015): 442-460. 

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