Re-storying Laws for the Anthropocene: Rights, Obligations and an Ethics of Encounter

Abstract

The Anthropocene prompts renewed critical reflection on some of the central tenets of modern thought including narratives of ‘progress’, the privileging of the nation state, and the universalist rendering of the human. In this context it is striking that ‘rights’, a quintessentially modern mode of articulating normativity, are often presumed to have an enduring relevance in the contemporary moment, exemplified in renewed recourse to rights in their attribution to parts of the nonhuman world. Our intervention contemplates ways in which the apparent disorientations of the Anthropocene might allow for a generative reorientation of some of these presuppositions. We critically consider the institutional and discursive limitations of rights and the ambivalence of rights language, and argue that the monism that rights so often implies limits the capacity to foster generative encounters between Indigenous and non-Indigenous legal traditions. We develop a critical discourse of obligation, understood here to both precede and exceed the rights-duty correlate so central to modern law. An attentiveness to the priority of obligation, we argue, might allow us to foreground an ethics of encounter between traditions, to examine the limits of modernity’s legal and political imaginary, and to pursue a ‘radical re-storying’ of laws for the Anthropocene.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Kathryn Yusoff self-describes as a Professor of Inhuman Geography: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/geog/staff/yusoffk.html.

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Correspondence to Kathleen Birrell.

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Birrell, K., Matthews, D. Re-storying Laws for the Anthropocene: Rights, Obligations and an Ethics of Encounter. Law Critique (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10978-020-09274-8

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Keywords

  • Anthropocene
  • Climate change
  • Ethics of encounter
  • Indigenous jurisprudence
  • Legal subjectivity
  • Obligations
  • Rights of nature