Negotiating Culture: The Global Justice Summit and Fijian Mats

Carlos Sanchez
J.D. Candidate 2015, UCI Law

I would like to draw upon the insights of Annelise Riles, a professor in both Law and Anthropology at Cornell University, and apply those insights to my experience at the Global Justice Summit. To start, Riles points to some basic similarities between Fijian mats and international documents:

Both were collective, anonymous, and highly labor intensive exercises that required great attention to detail. Both kinds of production ultimately yielded objects collectively acknowledged as highly valuable and a source of pride to their makers. Like mats in Fijian ceremonial life, moreover, the document provided the concrete form in which collectivities (whether groups of clans, persons, or organizations) were “taken to” another environment.

Annelise Riles, The Network Inside Out 73 (University of Michigan Press 2000).

Layers

When Fijian mats are presented at ceremonies and other special events, they are layered one on top of the other with frayed edges forming overlapping patterns that extend towards the walls, flowers, or people; infinitely inward and outward. Id. at 77.

At the end of the Global Justice Summit each group presented their sections of the document, one after the other, layer after layer. Although sections of the document were created separately, when placed together frayed language at the edge of the sections blended into one another, spreading throughout the room, bringing disparate groups together.

As a member of the property group, we decided to team up with the environmental group in a single room to negotiate. At first we tried to weave articles into a single, comprehensive section. However, negotiations between our groups inevitably exposed the layers. Staring into endless linguistic folds with a deadline looming and anxiety building, we decided to split off and separately liberate our text from the linguistic abyss. To facilitate this goal my group primarily used quoted language from past international agreements. Quotes solidified the text, making it concrete. By not citing references, we seamlessly wove layers of meaning and negotiations into what would be our section of the document. We had an artifact, unbounded at the edges, extending from one section to another, taking our collectivities to another place: The Global Justice Summit.

Patterns

Fijian mats often draw on non-representational geometric patterns that may seem “self-evident” and facially simple. However, layering the mats often involves hours of negotiation and countless re/deconstructing. The resulting pattern remains hidden from view, with only the top layer and frayed edges being visible. Riles points out that, “The pattern was apprehended precisely through the failure of apprehension: it came into view in the experience of what was unknowable in concrete terms but that was nonetheless present.” Additionally, the resulting patterns of layered mats anticipate being disintegrated into concreteness when redistributed among the recipients. Id. 78-80.

Initially, both Global Justice Summit groups drafted a preamble to organize and frame the substantive sections that were to follow. We logically arranged words into a sentence, sentences into a paragraph, paragraphs into a section, sections into a document. Cascading past the preamble are indented numerals and letters; non-representational geometric patterns logically bridging fragmented layers into an aesthetic whole.

Substantively my group took a deductive approach by pulling two articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that articulated vague abstractions. From these we splintered out sub-sections with greater detail and concreteness. I proposed a concluding section from a regional court opinion, arguing simply that it sounds good, like the crescendo ending a piece of music by bringing disparate elements together in a sense of bombastic triumph. However, the other side cautioned that my crescendo, even if downplayed as superfluous, would be picked apart by courts, potentially undermining other sections. These patterns were not discussed during negotiations, nor were they particularly strategized; rather, they were apprehended through the failure of apprehension. Uncertain of what the particular UDHR articles meant or what their precise purpose was, they just seemed like short general articles that were clean and simple, and the finale sounded pleasing to the ear, despite what might happen down the road. Upon reflection, our aesthetics arranged the language within a logical pattern that, when layered with other sections, extends infinitely inward and outward.

The Crescendo: So . . . What is This All About Again?

The Global Justice Summit is so much more than an afternoon and a day, it is more than two credits, and it is more than the people who participate. It is our culture, our legacy, and most importantly our identity as UCI law students.

The Global Justice Summit is not a competition; it is a process of cooperation. It is not a zero-sum sporting event with winners and losers motivated by smashing their opponents. Rather, it is a multi-dimensional exercise fostering solidarity and producing something everyone can be proud of.

The Global Justice Summit is an aesthetic device bringing into view the local and the global. It helps students build empathy with groups of people whom we have never met and likely never will. It fosters a responsibility for the protection and empowerment of the most vulnerable among us. It forces us to beg the question, “can the subaltern speak?”

The Global Justice Summit is a 21st century event for a 21st century law school.  The recent phenomenon of globalization has condensed time and space at an exceedingly high rate. Countries all over the world now engage in document drafting similar to the founders of the United States, but with wildly different results. Globalization is not a process of homogenization. Instead, it brings into view the vast particularities of our global family. It is here, at UC Irvine, that we stand at the precipice of legal knowledge, exploring a brave new world of ideas (or ironic clichés) and planting the Global Justice Summit as our flag; extending infinitely inward and outward.

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