Westin St. Francis
Law and Society scholars have consistently challenged both the fit and the applicability of these and other binaries, questioning what citizenship status, class, race, or politics really mean in myriad contexts. However, early in a new decade (and new century), many law and society scholars find ourselves in somewhat of a liminal space, facing whole new sets of border crossings, blurring boundaries, empirical challenges, and conceptual conundra. For example, in the U.S., the continued growth of mass incarceration coupled with the extended reach of criminal law and “civil” municipal regulations have destabilized entire communities, where categories of “incarcerated” and “free” are no longer clearly distinguishable. Around the world, political and legal responses to human migration have broken down lines between immigration law, economic regulation, and criminal justice in complex and often troubling ways.
As a result of these kinds of boundary dissolutions, notions about citizenship, sovereignty, illegality, and rights (to name a few) have all been complicated, challenging a number of longstanding assumptions underlying legal scholarship. How does the law in its many forms help or hurt the resulting conversations? The theme of the 2011 LSA Meeting–Oceans Apart? Narratives of (Il)legality in Liminal Locations–invites us to ponder the shifting and dissolving boundaries around us, empirical and conceptual, and also what they may tell us about law’s relevance, and limitations, in shaping our global future. It is fitting that we begin this exploration in San Francisco, one of the great transnational cities in the world. San Francisco, with its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, is located in a state that borders Mexico (and once was part of that nation), and which was once traversed only by native peoples. This locale is subject to tectonic forces, literal as well as environmental and social, which shape the human uses of law and responses to law. San Francisco constitutes an ideal setting for convening scholars who are concentrating their efforts on these issues.