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About Our Research Unit

Law – Gender – Collectivity

Central to our research in the Research Unit “Law – Gender – Collectivity” are the contestations around participation and social cohesion in the present. We ask how collectives emerge, how they are maintained, and how they negotiate concepts and imaginations of the common. We look at these processes from the perspective of law and gender. In a nutshell, our research is driven by this question: How can we make sense of current social conflicts when we look at them through the lens of legally normed and gendered processes of collectivization?

“Law - Gender - Collectivity” is a Research Unit of the German Research Foundation (“Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft”, DFG). It started its work in January 2018. The interdisciplinary Research Unit is a cooperation of different researchers from law, sociology, European ethnology and history that has its origins in the initiative of Susanne Baer: When she obtained the Caroline von Humboldt Professorship in December 2012, she decided to use the prize money to “make visible the enormous potential of the research done by gender studies, which should also give an impulse for a more permanent development concerning the purpose”. She invited academics from the Humboldt University (HU), the Technical University (TU), the Free University (FU) of Berlin, the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) and the University of Potsdam. Together they created a concept that showed the potential of the interdisciplinary cooperation in the field of intersectional research done by gender studies so convincingly, that the DFG decided to sponsor it in 2017. The diverse research emphases and disciplinary localizations, whose concern is to work on the interface of law as a sociocultural discourse and as an action context as well on gender as a powerful social norm and structural category, can be pursued as a common aim of the group for initially three years. The research group tries to work out how law and gender reflexively refer to each other: How do legal frames and discourses affect gender relations and how, on the other hand, does gender affect law? How do both of them change through this interdependency?

Processes of exchange, interdependencies, contradictions and ambiguities that emerge where everyday practices meet with institutional and legal practices are in the centre of our collective work. Thus, the question lies in the constitutive and regulative functions that approach the specific mode, practices and forms of mobilization of law. In addition, the project asks in what way gender norms and gender relations influence various dimensions of collectivity. The collectives themselves, ideas on collectivity and processes of collectivity in their socio-political relevance are analysed in six sub projects. Those also have the aim to make the diverse dynamics of the co-evolution of law, gender and collectivity visible.

Thus, the concern lies in work councils, unions and precariously made, dependent self-employed person (which at the same time refers to new forms of collective activity in the gainful employment), gender political interest collectives in professional fields that are dominated by a mono gender group (like in the working team of women soldiers, that do not coincidentally regularly operate under the name of “female soldiers”), advanced user communities (that as common initiatives challenge the legal standard norms and queer and migrant communities, as well as communities that are gathered around the category of “disability” (especially in their dispute with law against discrimination). Among the inclusion of various collectivization processes, applied to law (for example in the frame of anti-discrimination-, employment- and social law) and the examples above, the research group investigates how constitutive and regulative functions, specific modes, forms of knowledge, practices and mobilizations of law exhibit and in which way gender, in this context, as a norm, as an interdependence structural category and as a social relation becomes efficient. By putting the perspective on meso-level collectives the research group explores diverse aggregation states and intensities of collectivity – from rather loose social movements over manifested social groups, such as house communities, living communities, right up to assemblies and (political) organisations, from that significant impulses regarding to new forms of participation and sociality seem to become realizable. 

The research group is motivated by current socio-political conflicts: Right-wing populism, massive anti-gender attacks, as well as the increasing aggression of all forms against a solidary coexistence in diversified societies underline the urgency of questions like: How does the cohesion in late-capitalist societies emerge? How are models of coexistence organized and how (can) they build mutual fields of action over individual interests? Forms of sociality that evolve where traditional forms of belonging seem to be abrogated are in the focus of the study. In the same manner as tension between inclusion and exclusion causes conflicts it can be observed that new practices and visions on collectivity become at least selectively consistently visible.

The purpose of the work of the research group is to accomplish a distinct contribution to the understanding of the significance of collectivity in late-modern societies in their transnational relation. Another important intention is to achieve a theoretical surplus value for the empirical research on law and gender research.