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  • Writer's pictureMaria Cahill

Call for Abstracts: Exploring Associational Life through Social Ontology and Law

Interdisciplinary Conference hosted by University College Cork on 25th and 26th April 2024

Interdisciplinary conference to be held in Cork on 25th and 26th April 2024, organised by Dr Giulia Lasagni & Prof. Maria Cahill under the auspices of the IRC-funded Societās project

Exploring Associational Life:

From Social Ontology​ to Law and Back Again

Confirmed speakers:

Miguel Garcia Godinez

Kirk Ludwig

Judith Martens

Rachael Mellin

Hans Bernhard Schmid

Michael Schmitz

David Schweikard

Context and Purposes of the Conference: Associational life is such a fundamental feature of human sociality that many jurisdictions around the world include the right to freedom of association among the fundamental human rights. As a right that protects individuals in their sociality rather than in their individuality, freedom of association is peculiar. This peculiarity is also reflected in the fact that, compared to other rights, there is a lack of theoretical discussion and the number of cases brought before the courts is limited. This means that the specificity and potential of freedom of association are still underdeveloped in the legal field and the complexity of associational life is under-articulated. To use a metaphor: It is as if the courts were hospitals trying to help sick associations without having a fully clear understanding of what a healthy association looks like. As a result, it is unusual for court decisions to focus on associational life as such. Freedom of association is rather protected for the sake of other fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, or for the sake of values such as democracy and social order, as these are ideas that courts are more familiar and comfortable with.

Against this background, and building on a successful webinar hosted by the project in November 2023, we are pleased to announce the first interdisciplinary workshop combining social ontology and law to explore associational life and freedom of association, moving “from social ontology to law and back again”. We believe that the expertise of scholars working in social ontology can make an important contribution to the articulation of associational life protected by freedom of association, which in turn can provide a novel and interesting context for social ontology within which to test and refine existing theories and concepts. The workshop has two purposes:

  1. To shed light on human associations by providing law with the conceptual tools of social ontology. This means highlighting and zooming in on some distinctive aspects of associational life, both in terms of how individuals interact in group contexts and how associations are constituted as organised social groups.

  2. To reflect on whether such specific aspects can provide a partial justification for the protection of the right to freedom of association as a fundamental right, which cannot be reduced to justifications concerning the individual and/or the State.

Invited legal scholars will attend the philosophical talks and present cases that have been brought before the courts to provide philosophers with examples and further food for thought. There will also be round-table discussions involving both philosophers and legal scholars. Important Dates and Guidelines for Submission: A few slots are still available! We invite scholars at any stage of their career working in the field of social ontology to submit an abstract, 300-500 words by 15 January 2024. PhD students and early career researchers are particularly encouraged to submit a proposal. Notifications will be sent by 15 February 2024. Please submit your abstract via email to Author’s name, contact, academic position, and affiliation should be included in the text of the email.

As we establish a dialogue between the two disciplines, we would like to keep the exchange going and to discuss ideas rather than fully developed papers. We are working on a proposal for an edited volume, and we expect those who present at the workshop to submit an advanced version of the paper for the collection. Submission does not guarantee publication.

If you have any questions or are interested in participating as a discussant, please write to Topics: We are particularly interested in philosophical insights into salient, distinctive, and problematic aspects of associational life that may be important to consider in the protection of human associations. Below is a list of topics we would like to explore. We are also open to submissions on any other topic that might be of interest to the project.

The associations we are interested in are organised volunteer-based groups, such as charities, sporting clubs, cultural associations, students’ associations, political parties, trade unions, and so on. 1. Distinctive psychological features of associational life

  • What, if any, specific relations (solidarity, competition, rivalry...) characterise associational living?

  • What role do shared values and goals play?

  • To what extent can associational life generate collective abilities and skills?

  • How does being a group member affect individual psychology and agency?

2. The ontology of associations and their normative attributes

  • What are the grounds of associations/associational living​? Is there any ontological ground that can be shaken, undermined but not replaced by law?

  • Should one propose a taxonomy of social groups, to which type would associations belong?

  • What is the relation between associations and community?

  • To what extent could associations qualify as agents with their own rights?

  • What can social ontology say about membership policies and the way(s) they are established? And what about the status of being a member, a non-member, or an excluded party?

3. The messy reality of associational life

  • What influence do mutual expectations have on the actual functioning of associational life? How do expectations relate to the deontic powers of roles?

  • At what levels and between which parties can disagreement arise? What is the potential value/impact of such disagreement?

  • What kind of internal and/or external pressure can affect the life of an association? And to what extent can an association tolerate such pressure?

  • What about associations that are banned by law because they pursue illegitimate values and activities? What kind of entities are they and what value (if any) lies in that associational life?


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