Publications

This is a searchable catalogue of the College's most recent books and working papers. Other papers and publications can be found on SSRN and the ANU Researchers database.

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The Feminist Fandango with the Legal Academy

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This chapter argues that the fortunes of feminism in the Australian legal academy are closely intertwined with the prevailing political ideology. Social liberalism, with its commitment to egalitarianism, a robust civil society and a modicum of tolerance for the Other coincided with the flowering of second wave feminism. This led to the appointment of feminist academics in law schools and the incorporation of feminist perspectives into their teaching. In contrast, neoliberalism, with its aggressive entrepreneurialism and promotion of the self, encouraged sloughing off a commitment to feminist values. Taking its cue from neoliberalism and reacting against the second wave, postfeminism initially also resulted in a depoliticisation and a turning away from collective action, but signs of a revived feminism caused neoliberalism to move in quickly and colonise it. Mirroring the values of neoliberalism, this incarnation of postfeminism, which one might term ‘neoliberal feminism’, encouraged entrepreneurialism and productivity, particularly on the part of upwardly mobile individual women. It also resonated with the neoliberal law school where students were anxious to secure a position on the corporate track in light of mounting tuition debts and increased competition. More recently, there has been a reaction against neoliberalism which has, once again, brought with it a revived incarnation of feminism and a progressive understanding of the ‘post’.

The fandango in the title carries with it not only the idea of different movements, but also variations in tempo, and even a change of partners. The metaphor is designed to encapsulate the character of the dance between the prevailing political ideology and feminism, and the way that it is reflected in the legal academy. The fandango also refers to the more fluid relationship between feminism and its ‘post’. With postfeminism, we see a constellation of performers, some moving backwards and others forward, often at the same time, which highlights its ambiguity and elusiveness. In adopting a temporal trajectory, this chapter seeks to problematise the ‘post’ in postfeminism, underscoring how it may be simultaneously both reactive and progressive according to the constellation of values that prevail at a particular moment in time.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Towards the Uberisation of Legal Practice

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Uber and Airbnb signify new ways of working and doing business by facilitating direct access to providers through new digitalised platforms. The gig economy is also beginning to percolate into legal practice through what is colloquially known as NewLaw. Eschewing plush offices, permanent staff and the rigidity of time billing, NewLaw offers cheaper services to clients to compete more effectively with traditional law firms. For individual lawyers, autonomy, flexibility, a balanced life, well-being and even happiness are the claimed benefits. The downside appears that NewLaw favours senior and experienced lawyers while disproportionately affecting recent graduates. This article draws on interviews with lawyers in Australian and English NewLaw firms to evaluate the pros and cons of NewLaw.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Women Judges, Private Lives: (In)Visibilities in Fact and Fiction

Author(s): Margaret Thornton, Heather Roberts

Once unseen, women are now visible in increasing proportions on the bench in common law courts, although this reality has generally not percolated into fictional worlds, where ‘the judge’ is invariably male. Fiona, cast by Ian McEwan as the protagonist, in The Children Act, is a notable exception. In the novel, McEwan directs our gaze beyond the traditional separation of judicial identity into public/private (visible/invisible) facets of life and raises questions regarding the impact of life on law, and law on life. This article draws on McEwan’s work to illuminate a study of how judicial swearing-in ceremonies tell the stories of Australian women judges. At first glance, this may seem an unusual pairing: The Children Act is an international best-selling work of fiction whereas the official records of court ceremonial sittings are a somewhat obscure body of work largely overlooked by scholars. However, the speeches made in welcome in open court on these occasions by members of the legal profession and by the new judge in reply, offer glimpses of the attributes of women judges not discernible in formal judgments. These ‘minor jurisprudences’ challenge the familiar gendered stereotypes found in the sovereign body of law.

Read on SSRN

Centre: PEARL

Research theme: Constitutional Law and Theory, Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Law, Governance and Development, Legal Education, Legal History and Ethnology, Private Law, The Legal Profession

Social Status: The Last Bastion of Discrimination

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Despite the increasing inequality between rich and poor, there is resistance towards proscribing discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic status. This resistance is marked in Anglophone countries, namely, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, the US and South Africa, countries that are located in the high inequality/low mobility extreme in terms of socioeconomic status. This article argues that the resistance is associated with the embrace of neoliberalism, a political value system that extols the free market, individualism and profit maximisation. The commitment to competition policy necessarily produces inequality in contradistinction to equality, which informs the philosophical underpinnings of anti-discrimination legislation. Even in the comparatively few jurisdictions where legislation on the basis of social status or a cognate attribute exists, the legislative model is restrictive and the number of complaints minuscule. Most notably, an overview of the Anglophone countries reveals that there is a dearth of complaints involving national and multinational corporations, the primary wealth creators of the neoliberal state that are also major employers. Although employment generally gives rise to the preponderance of discrimination complaints on grounds such as race and sex, it is suggested that the resistance to social status discrimination serves to protect private corporations from scrutiny.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

New Directors for Law in Australia

New Directions for Law in Australia

Editor(s): Ron Levy, Molly Townes O'Brien, Pauline Ridge, Margaret Thornton

For reasons of effectiveness, efficiency and equity, Australian law reform should be planned carefully. Academics can and should take the lead in this process. This book collects over 50 discrete law reform recommendations, encapsulated in short, digestible essays written by leading Australian scholars. It emerges from a major conference held at The Australian National University in 2016, which featured intensive discussion among participants from government, practice and the academy. The book is intended to serve as a national focal point for Australian legal innovation. It is divided into six main parts: commercial and corporate law, criminal law and evidence, environmental law, private law, public law, and legal practice and legal education. In addition, Indigenous perspectives on law reform are embedded throughout each part. This collective work—the first of its kind—will be of value to policy makers, media, law reform agencies, academics, practitioners and the judiciary. It provides a bird’s eye view of the current state and the future of law reform in Australia.

Free download or order a printed copy

Centre: LRSJ, PEARL

Research theme: Law and Social Justice

How the Higher Education 'Industry' Shapes the Discipline of Law

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This article argues that a constellation of factors combine to encourage law graduates to pursue a career in corporate law at the expense of alternative destinations. Most notable are the increasingly high tuition fees law students are charged, but the respective roles of government, the admitting authorities, law schools and the profession cannot be discounted. Each change in policy renders resistance more difficult. The proposed higher education changes contained in the 2017 Australian Federal Budget are exemplary. As it is already assumed that law can be offered cheaply while charging high fees, the Budget cuts could induce universities to increase the number of law students as well as the cost of discretionary law degrees, such as the Juris Doctor. This would not only increase competition for law-related jobs in the labour market, but it would also effect a more vocational orientation to the law curriculum.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Challenging the Legal Profession A Century On: The Case of Edith Haynes

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This article focuses on Edith Haynes' unsuccessful attempt to enter the legal profession in Western Australia. Although admitted to articles as a law student in 1900, she was denied permission to sit her intermediate examination by the Supreme Court of WA (In re Edith Haynes (1904) 6 WAR 209). Edith Haynes is of particular interest for two reasons. First, the decision denying her permission to sit the exam was an example of a 'persons' case', which was typical of an array of cases in the English common law world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in which courts determined that women were not persons for the purpose of entering the professions or holding public office. Secondly, as all (white) women had been enfranchised in Australia at the time, the decision of the Supreme Court begs the question as to the meaning of active citizenship. The article concludes by hypothesising a different outcome for Edith Haynes by imagining an appeal to the newly established High Court of Australia.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Law Student Wellbeing: A Neoliberal Conundrum

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

The discourse around student wellness is a marked feature of the 21st century Australian legal academy. It has resulted in various initiatives on the part of law schools, including the development of a national forum. The phenomenon relates to psychological distress experienced by students ascertained through surveys they themselves have completed. Proposed remedies tend to focus on improving the law school pedagogical experience. This article argues that the neoliberalisation of higher education is invariably overlooked in the literature as a primary cause of stress, even though it is responsible for the high fees, large classes and an increasingly competitive job market. The ratcheting up of fees places pressure on students to vie with one another for highly remunerated employment in the corporate world. In this way, law graduates productively serve the new knowledge economy and the individualisation of their psychological distress effectively deflects attention away from the neoliberal agenda.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Squeezing the Life Out of Lawyers: Legal Practice in the Market Embrace

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Neoliberalism is the dominant ideology of our time and shows no sign of abating. The undue deference accorded the economy and capital accumulation means that comparatively little attention is paid to the pressures this involves for workers. Although conventionally viewed as privileged professionals, lawyers in corporate law firms have been profoundly affected by the neoliberal turn as firms have expanded from local to national, to global entities, with the aim of maximising profits and making themselves competitive on the world stage. Although corporate clients may be located in a different hemisphere they still expect 24/7 availability of lawyers in contrast to what they normally expect of other professionals, such as accountants. A corollary of global competition is the ratcheting up of billable hours, which has engendered stress and depression. The pressure for firms to be more productive has resulted in increased levels of incivility, including bullying. Despite a plethora of reports attesting to the deleterious effects of stress, scant attention is paid to the neoliberalisation of legal practice. This article argues that the tendency to individualise and pathologise the adverse effects of stress and uncivil behaviours deflects attention away from the political factors that animate them.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

The Mirage of Merit: Reconstituting the 'Ideal Academic'

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This paper takes a hard look at merit and the ideal academic, twin concepts that have been accorded short shrift by the scholarly literature. For the most authoritative positions, the ideal displays all the hallmarks of Benchmark Man. Despite the ostensible 'feminisation' of the academy, the liberal myth that merit is stable, objective and calculable lingers on. As a counterpoint to the feminisation thesis, it is argued that a remasculinisation of the academy is occurring as a result of the transformation of higher education wrought by the new knowledge economy. In response, the ideal academic has become a 'technopreneur' – a scientific researcher with business acumen who produces academic capitalism. This new ideal academic evinces a distinctly masculinist hue in contrast to the less-than-ideal academic – the humanities or social science teacher with large classes, who is more likely to be both casualised and feminised.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Book cover

Privatising the Public University: The Case of Law

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Privatising the Public University: The Case of Law is the first full-length critical study examining the impact of the dramatic reforms that have swept through universities over the last two decades. Drawing on extensive research and interviews in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Canada, Margaret Thornton considers the impact of the market on students, academics and law schools, documenting how both the curriculum and pedagogical methods have changed. If the passing of the idea of the university is rued, concern usually focuses on the humanities and the natural sciences. In this respect, law has been regarded as privileged because of the virtually unstoppable demand for law places and the willingness of students to pay high fees. And, as this book shows, it is commercial and instrumental forms of legal training that are now favoured, whilst the humanistic, critical, theoretical and social justice aspects of legal knowledge have been corroded. Privatising the Public University will be of considerable interest to legal academics; but it will also be invaluable work for anyone interested in the future of higher education, or, more generally, in the corporatization of culture.

Order your copy online

Centre:

Research theme: Regulatory Law and Policy

An Inconstant Affair: Feminism and the Legal Academy

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Drawing on the Australian experience, this chapter shows how the fortunes of feminist legal theory (FLT) are closely imbricated with those of the state. The trajectory of the discomfiting liaison between feminism and the legal academy is traced over three decades to highlight the contingent nature of FLT, particularly the sensitivity to the prevailing political climate in which the pendulum swing from social liberalism to neoliberalism induces uncertainty and instability. It will be shown that under social liberalism, FLT received a modicum of acceptance within the legal academy but began to contract and then wither with the onset of neoliberalism. This has not only been disastrous for FLT, but it has also subtly brought about a remasculinisation of the academy.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

An Inconstant Affair: Feminism and the Legal Academy

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Drawing on the Australian experience, this chapter shows how the fortunes of feminist legal theory (FLT) are closely imbricated with those of the state. The trajectory of the discomfiting liaison between feminism and the legal academy is traced over three decades to highlight the contingent nature of FLT, particularly the sensitivity to the prevailing political climate in which the pendulum swing from social liberalism to neoliberalism induces uncertainty and instability. It will be shown that under social liberalism, FLT received a modicum of acceptance within the legal academy but began to contract and then wither with the onset of neoliberalism. This has not only been disastrous for FLT, but it has also subtly brought about a remasculinisation of the academy.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Neoliberal Melancholia: The Case of Feminist Legal Scholarship

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This paper arises out of a concern for the future of feminist legal scholarship in the academy. First, it considers the significance of the implosion of the category ‘woman’, suggesting that it should be understood in its particular epistemic context. Secondly, it considers the impact of the contemporary market paradigm on feminist legal scholarship and on feminist academics generally. As the prognosis is not optimistic, the paper poses the question as to whether the more appropriate site for feminist legal academics might be outside the academy.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Technocentrism in the Law School: Why the Gender and Colour of Law Remain the Same

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Despite valiant endeavours by feminist, critical race, and Queer scholars to transform the legal culture, the transformative project has been limited because of the power of corporatism, a phenomenon deemed marginal to the currently fashionable micropolitical sites of critical scholarship. However, liberal, as well as postmodern scholarship, has largely preferred to ignore the ramifications of the “new economy,” which includes a marked political shift to the right, the contraction of the public sphere, the privatization of public goods, globalization, and a preoccupation with efficiency, economic rationalism, and profits. This paper argues that technical reasoning, or “technocentrism,” has enabled corporatism to evade scrutiny. It explores the meaning of “technocentrism,” with particular regard to legal education. Because corporate power does not operate from a unitary site, but is diffused, the paper shows how it impacts upon legal education from multiple sites, from outside as well as inside the legal academy in a concerted endeavour to maintain the status quo.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Sexual Harassment Losing Sight of Sex Discrimination

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

In this article, the author argues that the separation of sexual harassment from sex discrimination within legal and popular discourses deflects attention from systemic discrimination. The article examines a range of conduct to support the view that the closer to heterosex the harassing conduct is, the more likely it is to be accepted as sexual harassment. This corporealised focus not only individualises the conduct and detracts from the idea of women as rational knowers in authoritative positions, it also legitimises other forms of harassing conduct in the workplace. The unremitting focus on the sexual in sexual harassment therefore serves a convenient political and ideological purpose within a neo liberal climate that privileges employer prerogative over workers’ rights.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

The New Racism in Employment Discrimination: Tales from the Global Economy

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Neoliberal employment strategies, immigration policies, economic globalisation and the events of 9/11 have created new environments for racism in Australia. In this article, the ramifications of the shifting political environment on race discrimination against ethnicised Others in employment since 1990 are examined, with particular regard to the post-9/11 period. Drawing on complaints made to anti-discrimination agencies and decisions of courts and tribunals, it is argued that there has been a contraction in the ambit of operation of the legislation through the application of exemptions and a heightened burden of proof for complainants which has had a chilling effect on the jurisdiction. Drawing on Goldberg’s thesis of the racial state, it is posited that in the contemporary political environment, the state is active in producing and sustaining racism.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Protecting (Human) Rights

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This paper addresses the discourse of human rights in the Australian context. The resistance to human rights is apparent in the drafting of the Constitution and, subsequently, in attempts to enact a statutory bill of rights. The paper also considers the National Human Rights Consultation Report of 2009, noting how the political swing rightwards could damage the prospects of a federal Human Rights Act.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

Women and Discrimination Law

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This paper presents a critical overview of contemporary issues of concern relating to sex discrimination legislation in Australia, focusing particularly on the workplace and the federal Act. Pregnancy, maternity leave and caring responsibilities continue to be especially problematic because of the individual complaint-based mechanism, the comparability requirement in direct discrimination and the assumption of formal equality underpinning the Act.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

‘Post-Feminism’ in the Legal Academy?

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Against the background of the political swing from social liberalism to neoliberalism in Australia, this essay considers the discomfiting relationship between feminism and the legal academy over the last three decades. It briefly traces the trajectory of the liaison, the course of the brief affair, the parting of the ways and the cold shoulder. In considering the reasons for the retreat from feminism, it is suggested that it has been engineered by neoliberalism through the market’s deployment of third wave feminism, particularly the popular manifestation of girlpower. The focus on promotion of the self, consumerism, free choice and sexuality has deflected attention away from collective harms. Girlpower has also facilitated a revival of gendered binarisms on the social script, which does not bode well for the future of women in the legal profession. The proposition is illustrated by reference to the represention of women’s breasts on the cover of a law students’ magazine containing articles on sexed crime.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH, PEARL

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

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