Research Themes

Contesting Vulnerability

  • Professor Nan Seuffert
  • Dr Tanja Dreher
  • Dr Linda Steele 

The Contesting Vulnerability theme is engaged in research that analyses the multiple and complex relationships between law, legal processes, and vulnerability.  It addresses questions concerning the forms and shapes of vulnerability defined, represented and conceptualised through the legal system (jurisdiction, legislation, case law, policy, legal rights, legal process) and society, including the association between vulnerability and particular categories of individuals who experience social and political marginalisation and the nature of legal identities ordered around vulnerability.  Research in this theme also explores the use of law and legal processes to address vulnerability including the significance of discourses of vulnerability to necessitating, humanising and legitimising state intervention in the lives of marginalised individuals.  Our research questions how the legal system is authorised through its relationships to legal subjects on the basis of vulnerability.  We also question whether law and legal processes are themselves vulnerable.

Research in this theme also considers the implications of an analytical approach focused on privilege.  Such an approach signals attention to unearned privilege and advantage as well as marginalisation or vulnerability.  It alerts us to the relationship between vulnerability and privilege and of the production of vulnerability by privilege, rather than approaching vulnerability as an inherent characteristic of 'vulnerable' people.  An approach focused on privilege considers how vulnerability is constructed in relationship to privilege, and how analysis and action shifts if we focus on privilege rather than (or as well as) vulnerability. 

Questions of vulnerability, and related issues of marginalisation and incapacity, are emerging as key law reform and human rights issues in Australia, as well as in overseas and international jurisdictions.  To this end research in this theme engages with broader questions about the political and social implications of law’s relationship to vulnerability.  Research considers how different legal practices (eg law reform, public interest litigation, community legal education) address issues surrounding vulnerability, as well as how the legal system might generate vulnerability.  Ultimately, research asks what is gained and lost through framing social and political claims in appeals to the law in terms of vulnerability.   

Ethical and practical concerns surrounding legal research and the responsibilities of researchers when approaching this research, particularly empirical or law reform driven research, also form part of the research agenda of this theme. 

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Best Practice Evaluation for an Integrated Domestic Violence Intervention Service

Professor Nan Seuffert
Dr Trish Mundy

Professor Nan Seuffert and Dr Trish Mundy have been engaged by the YWCA NSW to undertake an evaluation of the Domestic Violence Intervention Service (DVIS) based in Nowra and servicing the wider Shoalhaven region. The evaluation project is funded through the National Australia Bank (NAB) Community Impact Grants Program 2016. The research project develops and applies a best practice model for evaluating integrated domestic violence services. The DVIS is unusual in its crisis intervention model in that it is a community-based domestic violence service that is physically co-located within a police station. Its goals are to work closely with police, Domestic Violence Liaison Officers, police prosecutors and other key community based agencies with the aim of enhancing support and outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic and family violence. This project will have significant benefits for women and children experiencing domestic and family violence and will enhance knowledge of ‘best practice' in the context of crisis intervention service delivery. 


Asylum Seekers, Sexuality and the Law

Professor Nan Seuffert 

Engaging with and developing postcolonial theory, this project analyses refugee law and asylum seeker policy in Australia in relation to ‘sexual minorities.’  It includes a feminist judgment rewriting the High Court case of Appellants S395/2002 and S396/2002 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs [2003] CLR 473 from a feminist and postcolonial theory perspective (as invited participant in the ARC-funded Feminist Judgments project based at the University of Queensland), an analyses of sexual minorities and asylum seeker policies as well as a postcolonial theory geneology of the concept of ‘discretion’ used in the ‘discretion reasoning’ rejected by the High Court decision. 

Seuffert, Nan, ‘Appellants S395/2002 and S396/2002 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs [2003] CLR 473’ in Heather Douglas, Rosemary Hunter and Trish Luker, Feminist Judgments (forthcoming 2014) Oxford, Hart.

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Listening for Media Justice

Dr Tanja Dreher

‘Listening for Media Justice’ focuses on political ‘listening’ in the context of international strategies for communication rights and media justice that have more commonly focused on claims to ‘voice’ and speaking rights. Since the UNESCO/McBride Report debates of the 1960s to the World Summit on the Information Society negotiations in the early 2000s, campaigns to address the uneven distribution of media flows and communication resources have centred on principles of ‘free speech’, ‘the right to communicate’ and aspirations for a ‘voice for the voiceless’. In response to recent calls for an obligation to listen to historically marginalised people (Husband 1998, Downing 2007), this research shifts attention to ‘listening’ as a strategy for media reform. The question of ‘listening’ as a political practice is increasingly urgent as new media technologies and Web 2.0 present proliferating opportunities for speaking up and ‘voice’. The project focuses on the patterns of receptivity, recognition and response within the mainstream public sphere in relation to Indigenous media and alternative public spheres. 

Dreher, T (2009) ‘Eavesdropping with permission: the politics of listening for safer speaking spaces’ borderlands ejournal Vol 8 (1)

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Emerging Homonationalisms

Dr Tanja Dreher

This project explores the lessons to be learned for marriage equality campaigns from recent dilemmas in feminisms. In the contemporary moment, Jasbir Puar argues that the ‘woman question’ is being supplemented or supplanted by the ‘gay question’ as a marker of a nation’s modernity, democracy and ‘civilisation’. An urgent challenge in the context of widespread support for marriage equality, is an emerging ‘homonationalism’ which positions the West on ‘the right side of history’ in contrast to homophobic Islam, and a liberal version of gay rights which obscures ongoing discriminations and injustice. 

Dreher, T (2013) 'The ‘uncanny double’ of gay rights: feminist lessons for same sex marriage campaigns' invited presentation at the IISL Bilkura on 'Law, Gender, Sexuality: Inequality and Austerity after the Global Financial Crisis' 6-9 July 2013, International Institute for the Sociology of Law, Onati, Spain. 

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Consenting to Violence: Law, Incapacity and the Sterilisation of Women with Disability

Dr Linda Steele 

This project is an analysis of the legal framework regulating the sterilisation of women with disability.  It specifically conceptualises sterilisation as a form of legal violence and explores the relationships between capacity, consent and disability that makes this form of violence necessary and humane, and masks its violent and discriminatory effects.  This project engages with current law reform in this area through a submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee’s Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia.  

Linda Steele, Submission No 44 to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia (24 February 2013).

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Policing Violence Against Criminalised Women with Cognitive and Psychosocial Disabilities

Dr Linda Steele 

This project explores police responses to violence against women with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities who are already known to police as alleged offenders. The project uses an interdisciplinary framework which draws on analytical tools from critical legal theory, critical criminology and critical disability studies. The project explores specific instances of contact that criminalised women with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities have with police as victims with a particular focus on the way the police talk about the women and the experiences of violence they report. The project also explores the relationship between the women’s police contact as victims and their broader pathways of criminalisation, notably their contact with police over time. The project argues that police responses to violence against criminalised women with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities can be problematised by illuminating (a) the intersections of gender, disability and criminality in the way the police talk about the women and the events they report, (b) the particular spaces in which the reported violence against these women takes place and the institutional relationships ordering these spaces, and (c) the significance of the complexity of the women’s contact with police over their lifecourse as victims, as well under civil mental health legislation and as alleged offenders.

This project is funded by a Legal Intersections Research Centre (LIRC) Small Research Grant for 2014.

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Last reviewed: 1 November, 2017