Uncanny Lore: transgressive learning in the legal sovereignty of Indigenous legal practitioners for sustainability and climate action

 The Uncanny Lore project investigated transgressive learning approaches and situated itself in the thematic area of Education and Sustainable Livelihoods with a contribution to climate action through extra-legal approaches. The main aims were to seek inspiration, guidance and transgressive social learning from indigenous arts and lore, that could contribute to the creative collaborative development of a new legal pedagogy that is grounded and embodies practices for heritage law and policy. 

Our findings encompass both the research methods and methodology, as well as an analysis of the research. We worked collaboratively and creatively, with a team of researchers and community members from across a range of fields and backgrounds, foregrounding creative practice as a key component of our methodology. This element of creative practice meant that the research was open-ended and responsive: we did not have a set agenda of outputs or findings, but merely a guiding principle of engaging meaningfully and ethically with people, their stories, and lived and living experiences, as they arose, within the parameters of our research into legal plurality, customary and living law, as it relates to ancestral land rights for the San people of Southern Africa. 

The open space, which had to be held for these relationships and stories to emerge, is often a central aspect of creative process, and while it brings with it moments of deep discomfort and questioning, this, together with the collaborative and transdisciplinary aspect, also allows for generative moments where new connections, stories, and findings emerge, or where forgotten or marginalised ones are surfaced. 

This approach allowed us as researchers to develop honest, caring, and reflective relationships with each other, and also to develop respectful, warm, and trusting relationships with the people in whose communities we spent time. From these relationships we were able to explore fundamentally new approaches to, and understandings of, the legal and cultural issues at play in ancestral land rights.

We developed a photographic language that was participatory and empowering, and created strong portraits of women and children in the landscape relating to traditional birth practices and stories, and portraits of girls and young women in the landscape relating to menarche rituals and practices. These have shifted our legal and social understanding of ancestral land rights, to focus not only, as has been done predominantly in the past, on the knowledges and experiences of older generations, but on the role and importance of this for the youth and younger generations, too. This is a key development in our understanding of these issues, and opens the way for further research and understanding. It also opens up new directions in using other human rights instruments, such as The Convention on the Rights of the Child, when looking for the legal tools and discourses that can facilitate ancestral land right claims. These portraits also form an important aspect of our research into the role of art and creative practice in working with Levinasian ethics, and how this relates to legal theory and practice. 

Key Themes:
Climate Action
Decolonising Research and Addressing Inequalities
Location: south africa
Principal Investigator: Luke Kaplan
Co-Investigators: Kileni Fernando, Ivan Vaalbooi, Saskia Vermeylen, Dylan McGarry
Host Organisation: Rhodes University
Duration: 12 months