Speculative Conferencing

Shohini Sengupta (University of New South Wales and OP Jindal Global University)

  • Stream: Decolonial futures: Technologies of law and colonialism
  • Panel 4, day 2 of the conference
  • Speakers: Edwin Bikundo on “Law, Violence, Music, and Decolonising the Coronation Ceremony”; Maria Giannacopoulos on “‘We’re Doing Everything but Treaty’: Technologies of Law Reform in the Colonial Debtscape”; Luis Gómez Romero on “‘A World Where Many Worlds Fit’: On the Zapatista Model of a Just Society”; and Gina Masterton, Mark Brady and Kieran Tranter on “Whose Road Safety for Who?: Road Safety, Transport Injustice and Safe Mobility for First Nation Women”

What does it mean to partake in a conference panel on decolonial futures in a moment of abject colonial occupation across the world? What is a decolonial future precisely, and do we have a place in it as former and current colonial subjects? These are not mere ontological and epistemological questions but questions of techniques, of technologies of law and colonialism, as the title of the panel suggests, to get to these reconfigured imaginaries.

I am drawn to Frantz Fanon’s work on the radio in 1956 Algeria. He sees the radio, seen earlier in the douars as an imposed instrument of the French occupation, transformed into a technology of resistance. The ‘Voice of Fighting Algeria’ on the radio gave a way for Algerians to exist with the Revolution; made the Revolution exist. The future imaginaries of a nation fighting to be born from the clutches of a brutal occupation were actualized by transmuting a technology of colonialism – the radio.

I return to day 2, panel 4 of the conference. I hear four extraordinary speakers transmute an academic conference panel into a performance of decoloniality. The panel is radical in its composition and the breadth and manner of discourses that abound. Each one of the speakers narrates a deeply personal story if not theirs, then of the worlds they talk about.

The panel is equally evocative. Edwin Bikundo invites the audience to listen to the cadence and strains of coronation ceremonies, the law’s relation to the dull metre of colonial exercises stretched from the annals of history into modern law-making and statecraft. Maria Giannacopoulos speaks of Australia as a colonial ‘debtscape’, of what it means to have singular indigenous representative voices be absorbed into colonial infrastructures of law. Luis Gómez Romero invokes the (maize) heart, through images of Marcos, the mestizo spokesperson of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and the humanist hope that can be derived from their revolutionary and anti-colonial practices. Kieran invokes images of a Ranger, crunching and heaving its way through road safety norm building, of road safety itself being a social, legal, and medicalised construct, affecting indigenous populations and women disproportionately, deliberately.

When they finish, I weep from the sheer deluge of imaginations that are evoked, that are possible. I wonder what to call this experience. I settle on ‘speculative conferencing’. Speculative because it felt radical to offer an imagination that challenged the incessant advice given to early career academics and PhD students on the values of self aggrandisement on Twitter and LinkedIn. Speculative because it took networking from a solitary act of performance to a communal exercise of entanglement.

I think for the next month about this panel. I think of Fanon’s radio in 1956 Algeria. I wonder how Fanon would view the experience – perhaps conferencing not as an academic technique, just as the radio was not just a technical instrument, but perhaps as a way to emphasise the voices of resistance that emerge from it. Perhaps he would view this as a discursive approach to the practice of law and decolonial thought, of mere words that can ‘shape the world while at the same time renewing it’. Or perhaps he would view it as a necessary speculative intervention for despairing students and academics in devastating times.