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Law, Humanities and the COVID Crisis: Documenting the Pandemic


Professor Carl Stychin, Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, explains the motivation behind a new book he has edited, which was published recently

UoL Press Book cover Edited by Carl F. Stychin

During 2020, as we all responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the experience of lockdown, I attempted to ‘make sense’ of events through the opportunities provided to me at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS). This was also a period in which I was thinking about the Institute’s relationship to the wider School of Advanced Study with its focus on the humanities. Law has a complex and contested relationship to the humanities. What is also clear is that the humanities provided an important lens through which to understand the responses to COVID. Moreover, it was obvious that law was central to the way in which the pandemic was being managed. 

In order to try and weave these various strands together - and without any idea of what the result would look like - I put out an invitation to participate in an online series of seminars over the course of the 2020-21 academic year, on the broad topic of ‘Law and Humanities in a Pandemic’. The response was overwhelming, and I was placed in the fortunate position of being able to curate a diverse collection of participants across a range of themes over the academic year. The presentations were fascinating, spanning an array of subjects, geographies, and methodologies. From Bolsonaro’s Brazil to refugee vessels and cruise ships, from conspiracy theories to gender and the workplace, from film and literature to historical analysis, the series was a fascinating documentary of a particular moment in time. The presentations remain available online at:

Following the series, work really began as the contributors and I aimed to develop the presentations into published outputs. From a wealth of material, I chose to divide the contributions between the more policy driven (which now form two special issues of the Institute’s open access journal, Amicus Curiae), and the more theoretical, humanities focused pieces, which have now been published as Law, Humanities and the COVID Crisis, with the University of London Press (UoL Press) as an open access volume. I strongly believe that the book, along with the journal sections, will ‘stand up’ as an historical record which will be of value in the years to come. I also hope that they help shape our understanding of law as a discourse and its relationship to the broader world of the humanities. 

What also pleases me greatly about Law, Humanities and the COVID Crisis is that it launches a new book series at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies with the University of London Press, entitled ‘Reimagining Law and Justice’. The series represents an attempt to refocus our open access book publishing, to provide more coherence to our list. The series has great potential to become an important academic intervention in the sector. This will be greatly enhanced by our open access commitment. We are already receiving interest from authors and some exciting proposals for review have been received. Our Editorial Advisory Board is in place and has been incredibly supportive in the development of the remit of the series. 

As I write, it is three years since the country went into its first lockdown which, of course, was underpinned by law and the power of its enforcement. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, I look forward to seeing the themes which our seminar series identified being developed by others, and hopefully also through our ‘Reimagining Law and Justice’ series.

Professor Carl Stychin is the Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.