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Q & A with our new Lecturer in Law, Dr Mai Taha

“The shameful history of empire is still haunting the present with continued racial injustice, emboldened further by the rise of right-wing movements around the world.” Dr Mai Taha, on whether we, as a society, are any closer to coning to terms with racial inequality and the impact of colonialism.

Where did you work/study before joining Goldsmiths? Are there particular elements of your experience that you’re seeking to bring to Goldsmiths?

For the past four years, I worked as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Law in the American University in Cairo(AUC). Before that, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Global Law and Policy (IGLP), Harvard Law School (2015-2016), and a Visiting Assistant Professor and Catalyst Fellow at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (2014-2015). I received my doctoral degree from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law in 2015.

I am lucky to have studied and worked in stimulating intellectual environments that were steeped into critical approaches to law. My experiences with colleagues, comrades and mentors, from Cairo to Toronto to Cambridge and back to Cairo, have helped me to think critically about the relationship between law, capital, empire and patriarchy. In Toronto, I learnt to think about the legal politics of settler colonialism in North America and how the lines of solidarity go all the way from Turtle Island to Palestine, complicating (in a good way) my writing and thinking about international law and empire. Teaching in Cairo after the region had witnessed the momentous revolutions of 2011 and as new waves of war and authoritarianism have erupted was difficult, but it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the tactics of resistance, failure, and most importantly, on the limits of law in times of revolution and change.

I hope to bring in these different experiences to Goldsmiths and be in conversation with new challenges facing the UK academy as anti-capitalist and anti-racist teaching is being silenced and scrutinized.

What are you looking forward to the most being at Goldsmiths?

I am really excited about working in the Law Department at Goldsmiths and be part of imagining its futures. I look forward to working in a place where there is such a strong emphasis on progressive and interdisciplinary approaches to research and teaching. In fact, I am starting a new lecture series on critical legal scholarship at the Department. The topics will range from the relationship between capitalism, racism and international law, to immigration, movement and borders, to gender, sexuality and reproduction, as well as human rights, protest and resistance in law and society.

I am also excited to be joining Goldsmiths, a college known for its vibrant and progressive programs in the arts and culture. My research is situated between law and the humanities. Therefore, I am thrilled to be in a such an environment, and I look forward to research collaborations and conversations within the college.

What is your key area of research expertise?

I work in the areas of public international law, international human rights law and labour law. Grounded in critical theory, my research focuses on how the organization of race, class and gender is a fundamental way of forming social hierarchies through law and rights. Using a socio-legal and historical lens, I study law’s distributive outcomes that affect property relations, labour rights, gender relations and social reproduction in the Global South.

My research is interdisciplinary in substance and method. I am influenced by various intellectual currents from the critical tradition, namely, law and society approaches, feminist and anti-racist Marxism, post-colonial thought, Critical Legal Studies (CLS) and Critical Race Theory (CRT). Borrowing from history, sociology, literature and film, my research relies on a fluid hybridity between the disciplines. As such, I approach law and rights through their ‘social life’ beyond the courts and legal institutions. I am looking forward to teaching and researching in the new interdisciplinary LLB program in Criminal Justice and Human Rights, as well as teaching on the relationship between law and art in the LLB curriculum.

Currently, I am interested in the legal politics of refusal and revolt. I’m working on a series of articles that look at the early twentieth century anti-colonial revolutions in the Middle East that took place in response to new international legal arrangements around colonial governance, mandates and protectorates.

I am also working on new research that looks at the conception of international human rights in communist thought and activism in the Global South. I look at how many leftist activists have rooted their engagement with human rights in the struggles against colonialism, patriarchy and capitalism, taking a different route from that of the UN system of human rights.

What is your approach to teaching?

My teaching philosophy is informed by the ideas and the methods of my research. I emphasize the influence of critical approaches to law and rights, interdisciplinarity and historical methods. I incorporate the idea that legal doctrine is simply insufficient to understand how the law works. I also borrow from various disciplines in my teaching. My students have acted in the classroom, went to art exhibitions, spoke with theatre directors and actors, and watched films, all methods to better understand the meaning and role of law in society through interesting and innovative ways. I try to create a learning community that relies on a collective approach to pedagogy, where students are not only recipients of knowledge, but contributing actors within this learning community.

Are we any closer, as a society, to coming to terms with racial inequality and the impact of colonialism?

The short answer would be no. The shameful history of empire is still haunting the present with continued racial injustice, emboldened further by the rise of right-wing movements around the world. Coming to terms with this entails understanding racism and colonialism as also historically connected to and dependent on patriarchy and capitalism. These systems of oppression and exploitation have historically relied on and nurtured each other. Race, gender and class are co-constitutive categories, intersecting and weaving into each other. In other words, we simply cannot address racial injustice on its own. 

How do you see the BLM movement proceeding from here?

I think we take the lead from the movement itself. Our role as allies should be to listen to the movement and stand in solidarity with its people. As educators, we have a responsibility to teach anti-racist scholarship that speak to the movements of the day. We need to teach students about police brutality made visible by the BLM movement, as well as take seriously the movement’s demands to defund the police and imagine abolitionist futures.

What hobbies are you leaning into?

I read a lot of fiction, watch weird films, and do yoga. These days, I’m practicing a handstand without a wall behind me. It is not going very well.