Review: Sophie Rigney, ‘Creating the law school as a meeting place for epistemologies: decolonising the teaching of jurisprudence and human rights’

Notwithstanding the aggressively academic title adopted by Dr Rigney – something I am in no position to criticise given the titles of my own works – this is an insightful and honest exploration of decolonising the curriculum in practice. It asks crucial questions about place and pedagogy, and it offers an excellent example of reflexivity, something not only relevant to all Law Clinic members, but also to a wider public genuinely interested in understanding what it means to ‘think of law as a dialogue’ (516), emphasising decolonisation.

Dr Rigney is explicit in the first part in situating her geographic, legal, and social locations, while navigating the meanings of place and space in a legal-academic context. As a settler (i.e non-Indigenous person) from nipaluna, on muwinina lands (now constituted/stated as Hobart, Australia), and an expert in International Law, she rightly does not shy away from questions of Eurocentricity, sovereignty, and settler colonialism. Indeed, she recognises that her role in decolonisation is ‘to practise being in discomfort and [to be] humble in a state of unknowing’ (509). She affirms that the multiple senses of ‘unsettling’ (510) are at the heart of decolonising.

In 2019, at the University of Dundee, she taught a module called ‘Justice, Law, and Human Rights’. She sought to bring the decolonial conversation into a particular Scottish space, following on from the work of other British scholars, like Dr Foluke Adebisi. Her reflections on attempting to pierce the imperial heart are profound and timely, and they should prompt important conversations about place and pedagogy here at Strathclyde, with legacies of slavery only minutes away.

Exemplary quotations:

‘[W]e must know what the law is; understand that as people trained in it, we are partly responsible for how it manifests or changes; and acknowledge the various harms enabled or caused by that law, as well as its structural conditions and what it makes possible’ (506).

‘Decolonisation is a process, and because it is rightly radical, it is also discomforting and must challenge current assumptions, denials, and power imbalances. [It] should be material [and meaningful], not metaphor’ (515).

Review by Arün Smith, Student Advisor

Full citation: (2020) 54(4) The Law Teacher 503 <>

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