Reflecting on the Law and Society Association Conference 2023

The GRIP-supported South-South Network hosted a paper panel at the Law and Society Association Conference in Puerto Rico. The papers presented are part of a forthcoming Special Issue to be published by Revista Direito GV.

Step into a world where law meets society, where the boundaries of justice and equality are explored, and where minds converge to challenge the status quo. Welcome to the Law and Society Association  conference, where intellectual sparks ignite, perspectives collide, and new horizons are unveiled. The 2023 Law & Society Association conference, themed “Separate and Unequal,” took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from June 1-4, 2023. It focused on the constitutional doctrine of “separate and unequal” applied to US territories, with a particular focus on Puerto Rico. Throughout the conference, attendees were captivated by transformative discussions on discrimination, power asymmetry, and the pursuit of justice.


The conference’s key objectives revolved around bringing attention to issues of inequality, power dynamics and discrimination perpetuated by legal, social, and political structures. Scholars and practitioners from 56 countries participated, engaging in over 500 sessions that provided diverse perspectives and insights. From thought-provoking debates to interdisciplinary collaborations, the conference became a melting pot of ideas and a catalyst for change.


The conference left an indelible mark on our intellectual journeys. As early career scholars, we had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a vibrant atmosphere, attending various sessions, workshops, and events. The Graduate Student and Early Career Researcher Workshop offered valuable guidance and support, while thought-provoking discussions on rule of law challenged some preconceived notions and provided new perspectives.


Themes of inequality and legal change took centre stage, with scholars from the Americas, Asia, Europe, Australia, and Africa shedding light on various topics such as climate justice, indigenous rights, women’s rights, and access to justice. Many of the roundtables and panels presented articles and books, where the research findings emphasised the need for comprehensive and equitable health financing, addressing systemic barriers to justice, and reforms in the petro-chemical industry. The sessions illuminated the role of legal changes in driving social transformation while highlighting the remaining challenges in achieving equality among individuals and between the state and its citizens.


The conference showcased remarkable speakers and presentations that left a lasting impact. From the Law & Society Association Presidential Address, which envisioned law and society scholarship through an empirical and public lens, to discussions on the objectivity of law in an unequal world, the presentations sparked intellectual curiosity and encouraged critical reflection.


Networking and collaborative opportunities abounded, with events tailored to specific interests such as South Asian and British colonial legalities. These occasions provided avenues to connect with like-minded individuals and explore potential collaborations. A consequence of networking events is exposure to and admittance into the Access to Justice Research Group, for example – run by renowned scholar Rebecca Sanderfur (Arizona State University) and Matthew Burnett (American Bar Foundation. Such opportunities are immeasurable for early career scholars.


As the conference ended, attendees expressed appreciation for the stimulating environment and the chance to delve into Puerto Rico’s complex history. Plans were set in motion to further explore inequality from a South-South perspective, drawing on insights from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. GRIP-supported South-South Network comprised of early career researchers presented 5 papers during a panel on the last day of the conference and received constructive feedback from the audience.  The panel explored pressing issues surrounding inequality and its multifaceted impacts from a South-South perspective. The panel titled “Inequality; Legal Change and Social Transformation” brought together early career academic voices from the South-South Network, representing diverse regions like Latin America, Asia, and Africa. In a comprehensive exploration beyond economic disparities, the panel engaged with complex dimensions of inequality encompassing social, gender, sexual, and structural realms.


The discussions encompassed an array of critical topics, from the intersection of climate change and environmental justice to the challenges posed by judicial backlash against LGBTQI and indigenous rights, and the evaluation of gender equity within the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Women’s rights in obstetric care and access to justice were also dissected, highlighting how legal reforms aimed at achieving equality can drive significant social transformation. The scholars embedded within their respective contexts sought to uncover the transformative potential of legal changes and candidly address the persisting obstacles that demand ongoing scholarly attention. This session truly highlighted the power of intellectual exchange and cross-regional collaboration in the pursuit of a more just and equitable world. The resulting draft publication was presented at the Bergen Exchanges on Law and Social Transformation to be held in Bergen, Norway this August.


In retrospect, the Law and Society Association conference served as a transformative experience, fostering critical reflections and collaborations as well as a renewed sense of purpose. It reinforced the importance of academic conferences in facilitating knowledge exchange, interdisciplinary dialogue, and striving for a more equitable future. But, the conference wasn’t just about intellectual stimulation; it embraced the cultural richness of Puerto Rico. Attendees immersed themselves in the local art, music, and cuisine, further enhancing the overall experience.

As the conference ends, we carry with us the valuable insights and connections that have been nurtured throughout this week. This gathering has not only expanded the horizons of knowledge but has also encouraged collaborative efforts and offered platforms for the cultivation of innovative ideas. The conference has effectively showcased the potential of academic endeavours, emphasising their role in shaping a society where the interplay between law and society holds immense importance.


The significance of socio-legal studies in addressing inequalities, coupled with the effectiveness of interdisciplinary approaches stands as guiding lights, informing the path towards a harmonious convergence of these crucial factors. With a shared commitment to forging ahead, we stand united in our dedication to creating a more promising future for all.