Professor Sharon Cowan completed an LLB (Hons) from Strathclyde University, and an MPhil in Criminology from the University of Cambridge. She undertook two years as a researcher at the London School of Economics before going on to complete a PhD at Brunel University, London. Sharon was a lecturer at the University of Warwick for three years prior to her arrival at Edinburgh. She joined the University of Edinburgh in 2004. Professor Cowan is currently the University of Edinburgh School of Law’s Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange. She has also previously served as the Senior Tutor and Director of the Centre for Law and Society.

Professor Cowan’s research interests include: Gender, Sexuality and the Law; Feminist Legal Theory; Criminal Law; Criminal Justice; Asylum studies. Recent and current projects include a national empirical project, along with Helen Baillot of the Scottish Refugee Council, and Vanessa Munro of the University of Nottingham, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looking at the way in which women asylum claimants whose applications are based on a claim of rape, are treated by the Asylum and Immigration Appeal Tribunal. Professor Cowan is presently working on a comparative socio-legal project looking at the impact of law on transgender people. Along with Dr Chloe Kennedy (Edinburgh) and Professor Munro (Warwick), she is a co-editor of the new Scottish Feminist Judgments Project @ScottishFemJP.


In this paper I will consider the place of law in current political debates about how best to address problems of sexual and gendered violence, and achieve social justice. In examining some contemporary problems of ‘ sex/gender injustice’, I will argue that feminist and queer critical scholarship should aim to expose and undermine the hetero-gendered social regulatory norms underpinning law, and look for alternative ways of achieving social justice than merely calling for state-led intervention such as law. Using examples such as criminal law, asylum law and equality law, I suggest that a focus on law-as-solution can lead to a kind of methodological blindness that instinctively accepts the centrality of legal techniques in our lives, and neglects the possibility of alternative strategies. I will explore what happens when first, legal tools are used to adapt existing doctrinal approaches to include –co-opt – those who previously have fallen out with the protection of the law; and second, how such techniques fail to deliver justice, despite the good intentions of those who aim for equality. Ultimately I claim that our desire for law, and the ways in which law and legal techniques frame conversations about sexual and gendered violence, deflect attention from the extent to which law itself continues to construct, perpetuate - and ignore - sex/gender injustice.


Level 4, Forgan Smith Building
The University of Queensland
St Lucia
W458 Seminar Room