Plenary Abstract: Brenna Bhandar

Neoliberal Legality and Racism: Separation, Saturation and New Lines of Opposition

Dr Brenna Bhandar, Associate Professor, Allard Law Faculty, University of British Columbia

Often described as undead, a zombie economic-political system renewing itself in the wake of the wreckage that it caused in 2008 (Peck 2009), or as a monstrous, mutating form shapeshifting into “new brutal specimens” (Callison and Manfredi 2020), neoliberalism – understood as an animating logic in the governance of everyday life, and crucially, as a legal form – is most certainly alive and kicking. Whilst the relationship between liberal legality and racism has been a mainstay of critical race theory since the 1980s, the place of race and racism within forms of neoliberal legality has received less attention. Drawing together work on liberal legality and racism produced in the 1980s UK (Fitzpatrick 1987, Gilroy 1982) and more recent critical legal scholarship on the nature of neoliberal legality (Brabazon, Knox, Veitch 2017), I will explore how neoliberal legality is parasitic upon liberal legal racial formations while it simultaneously obscures the foundational place of race in contemporary capitalism by subsuming material life within its modes of value extraction. The separation of a putatively universal, liberal legality from the realities of racism is reconfigured by a neoliberal legality that no longer requires the fiction of a public/private divide to operate, and instead produces multiple contact points between legal subjects and virulent forms of racial exclusion. Taking contemporary housing in the UK as a primary site of investigation, and specifically, revelations emerging from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, I will explore the ways in which neoliberal legality has upended and fragmented traditional divisions between landlord/tenant, and owner/non-owner, along with the racial relations of power embedded within these dyads.

Dr Brenna Bhandar is Associate Professor at the Peter A Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. She has published widely in the areas of critical legal theory, sovereignty and indigenous rights, and contemporary disputes over ownership and property rights, amongst other themes. Brenna takes a fundamentally transdisciplinary approach to her research, and draws upon critical race and feminist theory, critical indigenous studies scholarship, post-colonial theory, political philosophy, and legal history.

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