Category Archives: Law

PNG Symposium on Traditional Knowledge


To be held at the University of Goroka, 31 October – 2 November 2012


Ian Saem Majnep was a member of the Kalam tribe from the Kaironk Valley in Madang Province who was born around 1948. He worked closely with the late Ralph Bulmer, the Foundation Professor of Anthropology at the University of PNG, and also with Andrew Pawley, now Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at the Australian National University, on the documentation of the Kalam language and traditional environmental knowledge. Saem’s work on the documentation of traditional Kalam knowledge was recognized through the award of an honorary doctorate by the University of PNG in 1989. The Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium (‘the Symposium’) is named in honour one of PNG’s first internationally recognized indigenous knowledge experts, who sadly passed away in 2007. The basic aim of the Symposium is to enhance the capacity of universities in PNG to train students in the appreciation and documentation of traditional environmental knowledge, engage them in deeper processes of interaction with the local holders of such knowledge, and involve them in wider processes of biocultural education, expression, and revitalization.


Indigenous knowledge holders are increasingly demanding recognition for their practices without that recognition undermining the position of their knowledge as a socially embedded process. Recognition of Intellectual Property Rights has proved to be an inadequate route to deal with this issue. Whatever ‘indigenous knowledge’ was and is, it is also undergoing transformation in the contemporary world – it does not exist in a vacuum, but is embedded in the changing relationships internal to indigenous communities, and between members of these communities and external interest groups. The development of new models for the documentation and dissemination of such knowledge must therefore be based on recognition of at least three issues:

  1. The growing awareness of external threats to the reproduction of indigenous knowledge and practices, offset by a growing awareness in indigenous communities of the importance of preserving these things for future generations.
  2. The desire of indigenous peoples to present themselves to the outside world as knowledge holders and to gain recognition of their stewardship of lands and environments based on relations of mutual constitution rather than alienable possession.
  3. The opportunities presented by new technologies for recording and transmitting indigenous knowledge and practices in digitally mediated forms.

There is growing evidence that most of the students now entering universities in PNG come from urban family backgrounds, have little experience of rural village life, and are largely unfamiliar with traditional environmental or ecological knowledge (TEK). There is already some provision for the design and delivery of courses relating to TEK in the PNG university system, but much more could be done to improve the resources available for the teaching of such courses. Although some university graduates find employment in non-government or community-level organizations that have some interest in the documentation or revaluation of TEK, they have often received very little in the way of relevant training while at university. The same is true of the vast majority of graduates who find employment in organizations that have no such interest. As the years go by, an increasing proportion of the individuals who count as members of the national elite are losing all connection with the forms of knowledge possessed by village-level experts who commonly have very little in the way of formal education. Some provision is already made for the teaching of TEK in PNG’s secondary school curriculum, but there is again a notable shortage of suitable curriculum materials. The University of Goroka can play a key role in helping to fill this gap because of its role in training and current and future secondary school teachers.

Outcomes of the Symposium

We expect the short-term outcomes of the Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium to include:

  1. A review of what has so far been achieved in the documentation and dissemination of TEK in and from PNG, with particular focus on partnerships between scientific and local experts, and on the relationship between research and education.
  2. A review of new technologies for documentation and dissemination of TEK at local, national and international scales, with appropriate recognition of issues involving intellectual property rights.
  3. An outline for the first edition of a textbook or manual to be used in training tertiary students (including secondary school teachers) in practical techniques for the documentation and dissemination of TEK.
  4. Plans for development of additional funding proposals for development of institutional capacity and resources to undertake such documentation and dissemination through the formal education system in PNG.
  5. Plans to connect this type of activity with the integration of TEK into local-level land use and resource management systems in PNG.

Longer term plans to build institutional capacity to document and disseminate TEK in PNG will be based on these short-term outcomes. All participants will be asked to formally approve the use of their contributions to the Symposium in any future publication or in any document used for teaching purposes.

Organisation of the Symposium

Key participants in the Symposium will include:

  • Scientific and local experts who have been involved in the documentation of TEK in PNG through partnerships of the kind pioneered by Ralph Bulmer and Saem Majnep;
  • Individuals with particular expertise and experience in teaching university students about TEK in PNG;
  • Individuals with particular expertise and experience in developing the use of new technologies for the documentation and dissemination of TEK; and
  • People with a professional interest in the potential use of TEK as a means to promote the conservation of biological diversity or the management of local ecosystems in PNG.

The Symposium organisers are planning to invite approximately 30 participants from outside Goroka, including 10 local experts in TEK from Eastern Highlands and surrounding provinces with road connections to Goroka. In addition, we plan to invite another 20 participants from Goroka itself, including UOG staff and staff of partner organisations based in Goroka.

The Symposium will be advertised in PNG’s national newspapers, as well as by means of posters in UOG, in order to boost attendance by interested members of the public (including schoolteachers) from Goroka and surrounding areas, as well as by interested staff and students of UOG (including school-teachers taking in-service courses). Part if not all of the Symposium proceedings will be conducted in Tok Pisin in order to facilitate the participation of local indigenous knowledge experts who do not speak English.

A Symposium Steering Committee (SSC) has already been established at UOG. The SSC is responsible for the identification of individuals to be invited to the Symposium and for sending out the invitations, but is receiving support and advice from partner organisations in the identification of individuals to be invited to the Symposium from outside Goroka.

Expressions of Interest

If you would like to be funded to participate in the Symposium, please send a short (maximum 200-word abstract) of the topic on which you would like to speak and an even shorter (maximum 100-word) note about your past and current interest in the documentation and dissemination of TEK in PNG to:

  • Mr Wasang Baiio, Symposium Steering Committee Chairman (
  • With copy to: A/Prof. Colin Filer, Australian National University (

If you are able to fund your own travel to Goroka and would like to participate as an observer or discussant, please just send a short note about your past and current interest in the documentation and dissemination of traditional environmental knowledge in PNG.

A Symposium program will be developed when the list of likely expert participants has been established and they have indicated the topics on which they would like to speak.

We aim to have a draft program ready for circulation before the end of September, so would like to receive expressions of interest by Friday 21 September at the latest.

The South of International Law

Intensive Workshop
Thursday 8 & Friday 9 July 2010, Melbourne Law School
Call for Participation
Due 22 April

How might a concept of the ‘South’ be understood in terms of a pattern of (international) legal relations? 

‘The South’ is commonly understood as a political rather than a purely geographical  designation, broadly to indicate the ‘have-nots’ in a world riven with material  inequalities. The term is meant to overcome the hierarchical implications of other  designations, and attempts not to accept the epistemological privileges granted by  concepts such as ‘developing’ and ‘developed’.  

Critics of contemporary international legal orders  have pointed out that the grid of  international law has locked in a particular vision and distribution of political and  economic relations that perpetuates the history of  the colonisation of the South. It is  from here that many of the North-South and South-South debates gain their legal  focus. In these accounts the South emerges as a domain in constant need of  recuperation of and by the laws, politics, economies, and cultures of the North. At the  same time South-South relations have emerged in resistance and relation to the  dynamics of North-South relations.

However, if this rendering of accounts of imperial and post-colonial law is let rest a  while, there are other patterns of law that can be  understood to shape the South.  These laws, articulated for example, in terms of indigenous jurisprudences or the  commons, pattern the South according to different cosmologies, laws of relationship,  responsibilities, and protocols of engagement. Respond to these laws – as many  contemporary debates that link the places, peoples, and histories of the South do -  and a different patterning of legal relations emerge.   

The workshop invites consideration of the many ways in which the South is patterned  by indigenous, national, international and other laws – some providing parallel  accounts of law(s) of the South, others that intersect and conflict. The aim of this  workshop is to develop the repertoires of thinking  through the laws that position the  South in the domains of international laws.

Themes might include:

  • The South as a ‘lawful’ rather than lawless place,  engaging questions of plural legalities and intersections of laws
  • The South as a political-legal entity
  • The South as an object of International law and administration
  • Alternative traditions of ‘international’ legality

Specific debates addressed might include:

  • Trade, development
  • Security
  • Environment
  • North-South Justice
  • Transnational (and private) engagements of laws
  • Indigenous jurisprudence and formulations of the international

The Workshop

The symposium is designed to take advantage of the  visit to Melbourne of three
outstanding scholars:

Dr Fleur Johns (University of Sydney), Dr Catriona Drewe (SOAS, London); and Professor Ruth Buchanan (Osgoode Hall, Toronto)
Ruth, Catriona and Fleur research, teach and write  in areas including international law, development, legal theory, human rights, globalisation and self determination.  Each works from a perspective interested in questions of global justice and critical thinking.  The workshop is being organised by four Melbourne scholars with complementary  interests; Luis Eslava, Shaun McVeigh, Sundhya Pahuja and Gerry Simpson.

Applications to participate:

Everyone is welcome to apply to participate, though we particularly encourage  papers from advanced graduate students, young scholars and junior members of  faculty. There are three ways to participate: 

1. Paper Presentation (6)
Three sessions will be held as intensive engagements with each other’s work.  In  each session, there will be a presentation by one of our guests and 2 papers  selected from applicants’ papers.  The chair and our guest scholars will read the  papers in advance. The authors will each present the paper orally for around 20  minutes.  The Chair will offer a short commentary on each before opening the floor to  discussion.  If you are selected to present, you will need to provide a written draft of your paper
two weeks before the workshop.   

2. Reading Group Discussant (3)
We will also include a reading group at the workshop for which the text will be distributed shortly. One of the organisers will lead the discussion.  All workshop participants are strongly  encouraged to do the reading beforehand, but we also seek three discussants to  engage closely with the text and to be key participants in the discussion. 

3. Non-Presenting Participant (15-20)
The whole workshop will be held in plenary.  Places will be limited to 35 participants.

Because we wish to build an ongoing discussion, we  envisage that everyone will attend the whole conference and will come prepared  to participate in the reading group.  

Fees / Conference Support

There is no charge for those selected to participate in the workshop, but you must be  registered to attend.  Dinners are not included. We have no travel funding, but if you  wish to attend but need accommodation, please get in touch with us and we will try to  assist you however we can (such as finding you a place to stay). 

How to Apply

Everyone: send an email with the subject line:  South Of International Law  to by 22 April with your:

  • Name
  • Institutional Affiliation

And if relevant:

  • Position
  • Course and stage of study 
  • Citation of one or two representative publications

Reading Group Discussants

The above, plus… an indication that you would like to be a Reading  Group discussant in your email.

Paper Presentation

The above, plus…

  • a short abstract (max 500 words) of your paper; and
  • some information about whether it is part of a larger project.  

If you would like to be considered to be a reading group discussant in the alternative, please say so.

Deadline for applications:  22 April 2010

Notifications by 3 May whether you have been selected. Papers will be selected by the Melbourne organisers. 

Atlantic Justice in the Pacific World

Atlantic Justice in the Pacific World: Property, Rights, and Indigeneity

17 July 2009, 1–5pm
Sutherland Room, Holme Building, Science Road, The University of Sydney
Sydney Sawyer Seminar
Convenors:        Duncan Ivison and Andrew Fitzmaurice
Presenters:        Sankar Muthu, (University of Chicago) 
                       Jennifer Pitts, (University of Chicago) 
                       Andrew Fitzmaurice, (University of Sydney)
As Europeans turned to the Pacific they brought with them a well-established Atlantic framework for thinking about rights. And, indeed, thinking about the Pacific helped to inspire some of the most prominent Enlightenment philosophers and historians. But by the nineteenth century this whole edifice was falling apart. The understanding of what it was to have a right underwent dramatic changes, which often had devastating consequences for colonized peoples. The aim of this seminar will be to examine the role of the Pacific in the transformation of our understanding of rights.
The session is free, but registration is essential.  RSVP to Katherine Anderson  or 02 9036 5347 by July 13.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos maps the abyss



Boaventura de Sousa Santos is a professor in the Sociology department University of Coimbra, Portugal. He specialises in issues of law and globalisation, particularly as they relate to the Lusophone South (Mozambique, Brazil, Angola, etc). de Sousa Santos combines his academic life with an active political engagement in World Social Forum.

His essay Beyond Abyssal Thinking offers a broad framework for southern perspectives. It begins with a critique of northern epistemology, which he characterises as a methodology for dividing the world between regions of order and chaos. He offers the example of Amity Lines, agreed on by the Spanish and French in the 16th century as distinguishing those areas where rule of law would apply from the realm beyond where each was free to pursue their interests unhindered. De Sousa Santos links cartography with law and colonisation as part of a fundamental distinction between civilised and savage, cultural and natural and legal and lawless.

As an alternative to this ‘’abyssal thinking’, de Sousa Santos offers an ‘epistemology of the South’ which practices knowledge that is ecologically linked to its context. This grounds thought in both its cultural context and its ethical dimension – as a form of intervention more than representation. de Sousa Santos locates within this epistemology a ‘subaltern cosmopolitanism’ reflecting the diversity of cultures on the periphery (this evokes the ‘world’ that is used to identify non-Western art forms like ‘world music.’)

While de Sousa Santos’ opposition between Northern and Southern epistemologies may seem melodramatic, he is at pains to us it  as a way of opening questions rather than proclaiming answers. His essay concludes with the following questions:

How can we identify the perspective of the oppressed in real-world interventions or in any resistance to them? How can we translate this perspective into knowledge practices? In the search for alternatives to domination and oppression, how can we distinguish between alternatives to the system of oppression and domination and alternatives within the system or, more specifically, how do we distinguish between alternatives to capitalism and alternatives within capitalism? In sum, how can we fight against the abyssal lines using conceptual and political instruments that don’t reproduce them? And finally, a question of special interest to educators: what would be the impact of a post-abyssal conception of knowledge (as an ecology of knowledges) upon our educational institutions and research centres?

Useful references

  • Boaventura de Sousa Santos ‘A Map of Misreading: Toward a Postmodern Conception of Law’ Journal of Law and Society (1987) 14: 3, pp. 279-302
  • Boaventura de Sousa Santos Law and globalization from below: towards a cosmopolitan legality Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Boaventura de Sousa Santos Beyond abyssal thinking: From global lines to ecologies of knowledges, 2006
  • Boaventura de Sousa Santos (ed) Another Knowledge Is Possible: Beyond Northern Epistemologies London: Verso, 2007