Conference Theme

Law and Society in an Age of Populism

Populist movements around the world have been transforming the socio-political landscape. This changing landscape reflects a cultural backlash against the “liberal status quo”, threatening to unmake the established liberal legal order, and reversing decades of progress in the protection of human rights generally and equality rights more specifically. Populist leaders in several European nations are dismantling the rule of law and attacking judicial institutions on the basis that they obstruct the ‘will of the people’, and preserve the power of an ‘established liberal elite’.

This changing landscape calls for a closer examination of the challenges that populist social forces pose to the liberal legal order, and to the ways in which these forces are altering the role of law in society. The reasons for the cultural backlash against the liberal legal order, including the failings of that order, also requires further exploration in order to develop effective strategies for responding to populist challenges. Recent legal consciousness research on the phenomenon of legal alienation, which looks at the reasons why people feel resentment towards the legal system, indicates just one of the ways in which socio-legal studies might make a vital contribution to uncovering the reasons for the rise of populism.

Several of the current topics this year promote socio-legal examination of issues related to the rise of populism. These topics include engagement with the legal implications of the social divisions wrought by populists; threats to the international legal order arising from populist anti-globalisation sentiment; legal regulation of social media or fake news, both major tools of populists; and populist attacks on the rule of law following judicial decisions on the workings of Brexit.

Whilst the organising committee invites papers to examine issues relating to the theme of law and society in an age of populism, submissions can be on any subject within the scope of the regular streams or current topics.

Plenary Session

Gender Equality and Queer Rights in an Age of Populism


Considerable attention has been paid to the role of xenophobic and nationalist narratives in populist movements. The role of gender and sexuality in populist efforts to deconstruct the liberal legal order, however, has not attracted the same level of attention, despite evidence of regression in gender protections and diversity policies across different legal systems. The paradox of the populist narrative, of course, is that populist leaders often attempt to position themselves as defenders of gender equality and, on some occasions, of queer rights. Certain racist and nationalist policies in relation migration have thus been presented as ostensibly progressive for women and sexual minorities. These developments have generated debates about whether all forms of populism are a barrier to gender and queer justice, and should therefore be resisted, or whether there are specific forms that might effectively advance these goals.

This plenary session will explore the intersection of populism, gender/sexuality and law. The speakers will discuss how gender and queer feature in populism and in resistance to the liberal legal order. More specifically, they will examine the current and potential impact of the populist movements on the enjoyment and protection of gender equality and queer rights and they will consider how the law might respond to the challenges that the changing socio-political landscape poses for women and sexual minorities.


The plenary will be in a round table discussion format. Each speaker will have 10 minutes (total time for opening statements: 30-40 mins) for an initial brief take on the theme from his / her own disciplinary or professional perspective. These “opening statements” will be followed by a semi-structured discussion (35-45 minutes), which will be coordinated by Professor Matthew Weait, with an open Q + A segment at the end (15 minutes).


Chair, Professor Matthew Weait, University of Portsmouth

Professor Davina Cooper, Kings College London

Professor Nuno Ferreira, University of Sussex

Dr Senthorun Raj, Keele University

Professor Alex Sharpe, Keele University