The Bergen Exchanges 2017 – a short summary

Bergen Exchanges on Law & Social Transformation 21 -25 August 2017

The Centre on Law & Social Transformation (LawTransform) annually hosts The Bergen Exchanges on Law & Social Transformation. The event attracts scholars, students and practitioners seeking to understand lawfare – how law is used as an instrument of change – and how it shapes and is being shaped by power relations.

The 2017 Bergen Exchanges comprised around 30 public sessions – roundtables, panels and lectures – as well as project workshops and an interdisciplinary PHD course on Effects of Lawfare. Rashida Manjoo, the former UN special Rapporteur on Violence against Women gave the keynote address. The Annual Lecture on Law & Social Transformation was delivered by Kathryn Sikkink (Harvard University, USA) on making human rights work in the 21st Century.

Participants came from institutions across the globe, from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Academics and professionals from diverse disciplines shared research strategies and methods to investigate the effects of law and lawfare and the discussions spanned a range of topics:

  • How does law shapes and change gender relations? What is the currency of law in the political economy of gendered morality? The drivers and strategies fuelling anti-sexual and reproductive rights politics on different continents were explored, with a separate seminar on right wing politics in Brazil through the lense of anti-abortion politics. Other sessions discussed effects of (de) criminalizing abortion or same-sex intimacy; what law can do to prevent gender based violence, trans-continental struggles for trans-rights, and why child marriage laws do not work in many African countries.
  • What are the effects of transitional justice processes? And how do transitional justice institutions, such as trials and truth commissions) travel?
  • How are the rights of the child interpreted and implemented across countries? Does Norway fulfil its international commitments?And how do child welfare services in different countries exercise discretion ‘in the child’s best interest?
  • Law, democracy & authoritarianism. Law is used to defend democracy – and to undermine it, for example through anti-terror, NGO-, libel- and “immorality” laws. Participants working in different parts of the world discussed how to study law in authoritarian settings;  the role of law in current processes of democratic backlash – how the backlash affect legal institutions.
  • Are legal strategies effective in fighting inequality? Does the human right to water help the poor? Have land reforms brought social justice? When does court involvement increase inequality – and how can we know?What decides when and how court judgement are complied with?
  • What decides how judges rule – for example in cases concerning speech rights – or rape? Does the gender of the judges matter? What are the effects of how the ‘victim’ is constructed? Can judges be made more independent not only vis-à-vis the political branches and corrupt influences, but also from their own biases?

The PHD course on “Effects of Lawfare” was held for the 3rd time. It is free to attend and open to participants from Norwegian and international institutions. This year’s students came from institutions in Norway, Spain, USA, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, India, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa. In addition to the general PHD track this year’s programme also offered a specialization in Gender, Sexuality & Law. Students had the opportunity to share their research whilst being part of the Bergen Exchanges’ vibrant discussions on lawfare.

The Bergen Exchanges on Law & Social Transformation is made possible by a team of dedicated volunteers, mostly UiB students who are interested in social transformation and law, and are offered the opportunity to be part of this unique environment and mingle with leading experts.