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Professor Anna Grear on the 10 year anniversary of JHRE

30 March 2021
Professor Anna Grear
Professor Anna Grear

This year marks 10 years since Professor Anna Grear launched the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment (JHRE). I wanted to use this important anniversary to ask Anna a few questions about what motivates her research, and to find out why she found it necessary to create a new dedicated platform to explore the relationship between human rights and the environment.

Maybe we could begin with you Anna, could you tell us a little about what motivates your research?

Thanks Hannah! Great question. My research has always been motivated by a deep passion for imagining a more liveable world. In fact, this is something I have cared about since childhood. I studied law in the first place because I had a powerful sense of resistance to injustice, and I suppose it was inevitable that I would develop an interest in the meta-patterns and ways of thinking that feed familiar practices of injustice.

However, I first got really hooked on legal theory when I read a book that took a feminist approach to Contract Law as a student. I think at that point, something deeply exciting about the regenerative possibilities of a critical legal imagination just grabbed me. There was no looking back after that! I am deeply inspired by bell hooks’ statement that theory, at its best, is a form of healing. I love the extraordinary creativity of contemporary legal theoretical approaches. There are so many! All those ‘law and…’ hybridities! Law and literature; law and materiality; law and critique; law and plasticity; law and posthumanisms; law and arts—and of course, law and theory … the list is virtually endless and the field of legal theory is more energetic and creative than it has ever been.

Have your environmental concerns and approach to these stayed relatively constant over time, or have they changed as the environmental crisis and your understanding of it has deepened?

I’d say that my understanding has deepened in ways leading me to reflect increasingly on the need for a kind of onto-politics. What I mean by that is that I see the ontological foundations of law and legal knowing as core sources of injustice — and am convinced that without an ontological shift or transformation that opens up ways of seeing and arts of living more responsive to materialities —to the complexity and liveliness of what’s really ‘here’ — no transformation will be deep enough to address the multiple crises afflicting planetary life. I have found posthumanist and new materialist insights to be particularly enriching sources upon which to ground a potential onto-politics, although I also recognise the vital contribution of Indigenous cosmo-visions in any search for a new ways of living based on a compassionate and eco-responsible praxis.

Let’s turn to the JHRE, could you tell us why you decided to start a new journal?

At the time I started the journal, I was mostly engaging with critical human rights theory, and starting to focus on materiality more generally. I was starting to think more deeply about non-human affectivity and not just human affectivity. I was chatting with a colleague at Bristol UWE, an environmental lawyer, and suddenly had the thought that it would be a very exciting thing to bring human rights and environmental issues into a new and productive discursive space in the form of an academic journal.

Was it as easy as having the idea and then setting it up, or did you meet a few bumps in the road?

There were bumps! The main initial one was that most publishers I approached with the proposal thought that the relationship between human rights and the environment was, and I quote, ‘too niche’. I was honestly quite startled by that. It seemed obvious to me that this was a field that was about to explode in importance and relevance. Fortunately, Edward Elgar Publishing agreed with that assessment, and they got behind the whole idea and have been incredibly supportive ever since. We also benefitted, early on, from an incredibly supportive response from those who agreed to form our Editorial Board. We have a fabulous list of world-leading scholars in the field who have generously lent their reputation and support to the journal from the very outset of its journey — a wonderful contribution to our early credibility before we had really established the journal’s reputation. In fact, some of those scholars wrote articles for the very first edition, which really got the journal off to a wonderful start in terms of the level of its quality. There have been other bumps, of course, and the journal has taken a lot of very hard work. It’s not the kind of work that features in institutional workload planning, either, so it really does have — and has always had to be — to be a bit of a passion project!

When you look back at how the journal has developed over the past 10 years, what do you feel most satisfied about?

I am especially happy with the way in which the journal has become a leading space in which important and challenging extended academic ‘conversation’ around human rights and the environment takes place. The journal has gained a very strong international reputation for intellectual quality, which is a commitment that the editorial team puts front and centre of all our work. The journal is currently in the 88th centile, by citation count, of all law journals internationally — and that’s incredibly pleasing for the whole team. We have a very rigorous double-blind process, and that, I am sure, has really supported our pursuit of excellence. I am also particularly pleased with the way in which the journal team has always sought to support emerging scholars and also to support scholars from non-English speaking parts of the world to get published in English. We offer an incredibly solid level of editorial support to authors, far beyond ‘the norm’ in fact — and I’m delighted by the quality and commitment of the editorial team to that aspect of our work. Looking back over the last ten years, I can honestly say I am humbled to have the privilege of working with such a talented, passionate, ethically grounded people who all demonstrate such clear personal integrity and generosity in their work — undertaken free of remuneration and without workload credit from their institutions —in the service of the wider collective interest. In fact, if you push me to choose, I’d say that while I am really delighted about the international reputation of the journal for intellectual excellence, I’m most proud—in the final analysis—of the ethos of our editorial practice.

How would you say the journal has contributed to debates about human rights and the environment?

I think that the reputation of the journal in this respect would underline my own sense that its key contribution has been to carve out a visible, high quality, ‘go-to’ academic space in which important, and sometimes really novel, ideas get explored. The journal invites a wide range of interdisciplinary contributions and combines a particularly invigorating mix of critical and doctrinal legal scholarship too. In that sense, I’d say the main contribution of the journal is that it draws together different constituencies and invites them into encounter with each other’s approaches and contributions. That breadth of engagement alone, I think, is an exciting and worthwhile contribution.

Are there limits to what a journal can achieve in terms of contributing to and shaping the scholarly debate?

Probably! Nevertheless, what a journal can achieve is the provision of an important platform for the fearless exploration of possibilities. I love the fact that everyone working on and submitting to the journal cares so passionately about the multiple crises afflicting human and non-human life. The work the journal publishes is, by its very nature, often concerned with change making; engagement with law and praxis; and/or with theories, practices and possibilities for crafting ‘worlds otherwise’.

Do you have plans for the future of the journal?

Yes. I am keen to see the editorial team deepen the ethos of our practice and perhaps, in time, also to get to the point where we routinely publish more issues. We currently publish two issues a year — precisely because we are more interested in quality than in quantity, but the field is growing explosively and we are getting more and more submissions, so it may be that, without sacrificing the high standards that we hold central to our mission, we can expand our contribution over time. I have an excellent Co-Editor in Chief in Julia Dehm, and I know that the on-going development of the journal and its future unfolding is very much at the forefront of our minds. As I have said, we have an absolutely wonderful editorial team and we will definitely be taking plans and conversations forward as time goes by!