Respecting rights of all members of society appears to be one of the greatest legal challenges of our time

Associate Professor Dorota Gozdecka wants her research to help build an inclusive community where all members can enjoy the feeling of belonging and having their rights respected.

A new Associate Professor in Law, Security and Privacy, Dorota Gozdecka, is an internationally recognized expert in non-discrimination law. She is currently focusing on the relationship between the way migrants are portrayed visually and the perceptions these images create for the understanding of migrants as legal subjects.

She began her work at the Faculty of Law in October, and belongs to the Helsinki Inequality Initiative (INEQ) -research community.

– I am working on a monograph that uses the theory of law and aesthetics to explain how the visual field affects our legal imaginary of who a migrant is and what their rights are, Gozdecka explains.

Her intention is to show how the dominant migration imagery is connected with the growing securitisation of migration laws and increased use of criminal law methods in regulation of migration flows.

– Since my general research focus is on the position of the marginalised in the legal system, I have also worked on several articles concerning the backlash against women's rights and the impact of populism on human rights law, Gozdecka says.

What kind of societal impact Gozdecka wish her research would have?

– I hope to contribute to the understanding of how we can build an inclusive community where all members can enjoy the feeling of belonging and having their rights respected. In the course of my career, I have been able to influence policy in the area when the Council of Europe's Drafting Group on Human Rights in Diverse societies invited me as a keynote speaker in the course of the preparation of the guidelines on human rights in culturally diverse societies. As a researcher seeing one's research have a direct impact on human right's policy is a wish come true, she says.

Legal theory has much to contribute to legal practice today

Gozdecka’s background as a researcher is in critical legal theory. She has focused on the question of how law contributes to and perpetuates exclusion and problems with full belonging in our diverse communities.

– I find legal theoretical research to be a fascinating and often neglected field. I have been trying to show that legal theory has much to contribute to legal practice today and is far from the perceived ivory tower of imagined problems. To my mind, law is a discipline that is deeply linked with other fields, and therefore I see myself as an interdisciplinary researcher.

What Gozdecka thinks are the most critical challenges in the field of non-discrimination law right now?

– Most communities are experiencing increased tensions concerning diversity. On the one hand, we are seeing a backlash against rights of migrants, women and minorities and on the other hand, we see increased calls for inclusion from multiple groups, individuals and communities.

In her opinion, these tensions can be observed globally.

– In the area of law, we are seeing for example multiple regressive laws affecting women's reproductive rights, ever increasing control of migration or increased use of detention of criminal methods in managing refugee flows. Additionally, the focus on cohesion in many societies has reduced the importance of inclusion and recognition of diversity in legal discourse, Gozdecka says.

– This of course sparked a wave of protests from women, minorities and those fighting for rights of migrants. Balancing the expectations of the electorates and respecting rights of all members of society appears to be one of the greatest legal challenges of our time, Associate Professor continues.

Happy to be back at the University of Helsinki

Gozdecka did her PhD at the Faculty of Law in 2009.

– I found the Faculty as a wonderful and inspirational research community working with fascinating and cutting edge ideas. While I enjoyed working in Australia, I had always missed the unrivaled research culture at the University of Helsinki, she reveals.

– It is fascinating now that firstly, so many theoretical problems I used to read about when doing my PhD are nowadays topics of daily headlines, and secondly that we are constantly renegotiating legal limits and fundamental questions in the area of rights, Gozdecka says.

In addition to being an academic, Gozdecka is also a theatre practitioner. What are her plans in this affair?

– I used to run an English-speaking theatre group in Helsinki for many years. After joining the Australian National University I decided to merge my legal and theatre hobby and opened Antigone Law and Theatre Group. There is much research in the area of the intersections of law and theatre so I was confident that practical approach could be mind opening, too.

– When working with law students I wrote a play dealing with contemporary issues in migration law. The play was staged in Canberra in March 2018 and I am hoping to stage in in Helsinki, too. I am planning to open Antigone group at the Faculty of Law from January. The group will be open for all students – both studying law and other disciplines, she tells.

Recent NA v Finland judgment is one good example of how big questions are once more a focus of human rights jurisprudence and political debate, Associate Professor Dorota Gozdecka says. Photo: University of Helsinki.

Dorota Gozdecka

Associate Professor in Law, Security and Privacy