How the Theory of Collective Consciousness Reveals Gaps and Dilemmas in International Gender Law

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Seminarsaal 20 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Alexandra WALKER, Australian National University, Australia
Tom R. BURNS, Uppsala University, Sweden
This paper applies the features and dynamics of collective consciousness to international gender law. Drawing on the work of George Herbert Mead, Walter Buckley, Norbert Wiley, Tom Burns and Erik Engdahl among others, collective consciousness is presented as more than shared knowledge and practices – it entails, in addition, mutual awareness and normative (emotional) charge of the knowledge, people and institutions that are the source of the shared experience. As such, collective consciousness of international gender law is grounded in a shared legal regime, specialized language, mutual communication, and reflectivity. The community of agents (including international organizations, courts, INGOs, international law scholars, and associations of international lawyers) share and experience consciousness of particular rights, agreements, discourses, institutions, and procedures.

It will be shown that some of the primary narratives of international gender law contain paradoxes, selectivity and bias, which are evident in duly established norms of equality (for instance, UN conventions and declarations). Conscientious efforts to establish gender equality and justice are compromised by the unconscious perpetuation of counter norms, often not articulated openly but tacitly; appearing in jokes, innuendo, body language, and pervasive archetypes of the masculine and feminine, for example the female victim and prostitute, and the dominating, insensitive, violent male. This unconscious material has the effect of downplaying the emotional needs of men, glorifying the public sphere and diminishing the significance of the private sphere.

Of particular interest in the paper are the omissions, exclusions and other distortions in international gender law, which our research has identified. Three major biases/gaps are:

  1. Person Exclusion: Persons and subgroups may be excluded from the communication exchanges and shared collective experiences;
  2. Knowledge/factual exclusion: Particular ideas, “facts,” and “knowledge” may be selectively excluded from collective communication; and
  3. Exclusion of particular emotions or emotional orientations from group life and expression.