Issue 2, Volume 17
Yoriko Otomo is a Research Associate (formerly Senior Lecturer in Law) at SOAS, University of London. She was recently a Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Global History, and a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales. Her new co-edited collection, Making Milk, shifts the paradigms of food and animal law. She received her PhD from MLS in 2013. Yoriko kindly agreed to be interviewed by De Minimis regarding her work, her time at MLS, and her advice for all of us still studying.
1. First of all, how did you find your time at MLS? We’re particularly interested to hear your perspective as someone with a diverse background.
Going to uni to do a BA/LLB was such an eye-opening experience. As well as having a vast range of fascinating subjects to choose from, there were so many different kinds of people, many with ambitions and ideas that had never even occurred to me. The first year was not easy - I hadn’t taken law at school and knew no lawyers, so the concepts were quite bewildering. Taking cultural studies classes for the Bachelor of Arts was far more familiar, and if I’m being honest, more interesting too. From the second year of law school there was more scope to do theory and research, and after taking Environmental Law I decided that there might be scope to pursue work in the field. In terms of being an ‘outsider’ - I must say I felt very included despite being a migrant and an ethnic minority. The cohort was quite mixed (albeit largely from private schools), and the faculty at MLS were very kind. Everyone went out of their way to encourage us and to offer help. Female lecturers and professors were also wonderful mentors and role models - for that I feel incredibly lucky.
2. Obviously, we all want to land a good job once we graduate. As someone who’s been successful yourself, what’s the best thing a current student can do to enhance their CV?
The best thing one can do to achieve success is to find out what you love and care about, and to develop a coherent knowledge base, skills and experience that will enable you to give back to the community. Building your CV can happen in many ways - think laterally about the things you have done that will be useful in the world of work. Volunteer at the organisations that you’d like to end up in.
Most importantly, keep in mind that a CV is a reflection of your outer life, and that at the end of the day, it is the cultivation of an inner life that matters. The relationship that you have with yourself and with others will be evident to everyone in the long run. Be kind, be attentive to your work and to those around you, and the CV will sort itself out. On a practical note, it’s always helpful to have feedback on your CV from a teacher or someone in the field in which you want to work.
3. You said in a 2016 interview that the law is hamstrung by ‘discursive barriers’. From a structural perspective, what are some of the salient problems in law as it’s currently studied and practiced, in your opinion?
The judiciary in Australia, Japan and the UK (three places where I have lived) are singularly lacking in diversity. Narrow life experience and a failure of imagination by lawyers and judges means that the regulation of those aspects of life that I believe are most important - relationships between genders, between generations, and between humans and non-human beings - favours the interests of those most similar to those with decision-making power. At MLS there was a lot of wonderful teaching that did push us to critique how the law is practised, but in my experience of court, this isn’t reflected in practice. One of the issues, as you say, is that there is a logic and language of law that is very particular, bound up in the ideologies of the colonial and post-colonial eras that assume certain power relations and are blind to the majority of lived experience. How do we change this? By having the courage to question ideas that are taken as given in law, by calling out hypocrisy, and by encouraging kindness as a guiding principle, rather than ‘justice’, ‘punitive measures’, ‘restitution’, etc.
4. Could you please tell us a little bit about your research, including any current projects that De Minimis readers might find interesting?
I’m currently working on a project with the artistic duo Ben and Sebastian to create a work on law and animals for the Court of Aarhus in Denmark, and writing various pieces for publication. Aside from that, I’m devoting my energy to supporting PhD students and early career researchers from around the world, through a group called the Global Research Network (http://www.grn.global). We are trying to build connections to bridge institutional, political, racial and class barriers, with the express intention of diversifying higher education and the global policy-making space (through a Think Tank). Students at MLS would be very welcome to join, of course.
5. What do you think the top three issues facing the world are, and briefly, why?
It’s difficult to speak of a ‘world’ when there is such a diversity of living beings, interests, and contexts. Perhaps I could reflect on three questions I’ve been mulling over since my time at university. The first is the relationship between the idea of the human, and nature. The second is the relationship between home and the state. And the third is the place of the feminine and the place of the masculine. These relationships to the world in the 20th and 21st centuries have been shaped and directed by a handful of dominant discourses - Lockean, Romantic, colonial, gendered, neoliberal - that are deeply problematic. They reproduce ontologies and power relations - in public discourse - that disregard the responsibilities we have to one another and to the earth. Working in law, you have an enormous power to change this, if you work to open up the language we use to describe the governance of the world.
After this week’s thought-provoking interview with Dr. Yoriko Otomo, De Minimis is taking submissions on who we should interview next! Make a suggestion using the ideas box on Level 2, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.