Tilburg Law School

Witteveen Memorial Fellows

Tilburg University has established the annual ‘Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law and Humanities’ in order to commemorate the life and work of Willem Witteveen, who died in the disaster with flight MH17 in Ukraine in July of 2014 in the company of his wife and daughter. The fellowship aims to enable a junior scholar (PhD or postdoc level) to further develop his or her research in the area of ‘Law and Humanities’ during a three-month visit to Tilburg Law School.

Danish Sheikh (2022)

I am a playwright and final year PhD candidate at the Melbourne Law School and a member of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities. My research is located at the intersections of law, literature, performance and queer theory. In my thesis, titled A Minor Jurisprudence of Repair, I explore repair as a genre of legal writing, and as a technique of legal dissent. In terms of genre, the thesis places the reparative writing of queer theorist Eve Sedgwick in conversation with a range of law and humanities scholars. As a technique, it entails redescribing queer acts of dissent against oppressive legal regimes in a manner that captures their hopeful, surprising possibilities. Pairing these genres and techniques of repair in creative ways allows me to describe a minor jurisprudence.

I am particularly interested in playing with and theatricalizing conventional modes of academic writing and presentation. My recently published monograph, Love and Reparation, brings together court transcripts, archival research and personal memoir to restage the litigation battle to decriminalize homosexuality in India. At Tilburg, I hope to actively participate in the intellectual life of the institution while also getting a chance to present and receive feedback on my work through different modes of lecture-performance.

Justine Collins (2020)

I had just completed my doctoral candidacy at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt am Main, Germany in December 2019. I submitted my thesis to the first examiner was awaiting further (possible) edits and eventually my defence.

My research covers and traces legal transplantation from England to the English speaking West Indies specifically depicting how English medieval, societal and criminal laws influenced West Indian plantation societal development and slaves laws and how in turn those influenced the wider slave holding territories throughout the Empire, particularly mainland America.

I was therefore fortunate to obtain the Witteveen Memorial Fellowship and thus join the Tilburg Law School and the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Science starting the month of February 2020 for the three-month duration. The time at the faculty was to be beneficial not only to finish my thesis edits but will also enable me to prepare for the thesis defence and eventual publication.

Furthermore, the post represented an excellent opportunity for networking and developing my scholarship within the law and humanities disciplines. Unfortunately, due to the COVID19 crisis my time at the University was cut short and I had to return to my home country of Grenada in March 2020. However, the fellowship did allow me to interact with members of the faculty and the students. I was able to partake in the ‘movie night’ where I chose a film related to my research, presented briefly on it and then watched with members of faculty and students, which culminated in a lively discussion.  I retained contact with some members of faculty and as such I can now continue sharing my work in upcoming online seminars, therefore my time at Tilburg proved very fruitful despite the abrupt ending.

Rajgopal Sajkumar (2019)

The 2019 Witteveen Memorial Fellowship has been awarded to Rajgopal Sajkumar. Rajgopal Sajkumar is a fourth year PhD candidate at New York University. His PhD thesis is about the problem of legal obligation. In his PhD project he traces a specific set of responses to the problem of obligation as it arose in the interwar years (1930s) from a constellation of cosmopolitan thinkers and political actors envisioning distinctive and peculiar decolonial futures.
As of September 2019 he will spend three months at Tilburg University.  During the fellowship he will write about the dimension of political/legal obligation in Romain Rolland and Simone Weil.

Kelly and Vicky Breemen (2018)

We were honored to be the fourth recipients of the Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law & Humanities and joined Tilburg University in the spring/summer of 2018. At the time, Kelly was close to defending her PhD on the protection of traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) at the University of Amsterdam’s Institute for Information Law (IViR, June 2018), for which she analyzed the three legal frameworks of copyright law, cultural heritage law and human rights law. Vicky was finalizing her PhD on the interplay between copyright law and libraries and the principles for a library privilege in the digital networked environment, at the same institute, with the defense scheduled for November 2018. Therefore, the Fellowship offered an excellent opportunity to combine our work in a joint multidisciplinary project pertaining to new ways of sharing and accessing TCEs via digital libraries and the historical, ethical, cultural-political and legal issues involved. Adopting a law & humanities approach fit very well with the course of our research so far. The research during our Fellowship period has resulted in a written paper, which we hope to publish in due time.

Hosted by the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT) and the Tilburg Institute for Private Law (TIP), we were able to attend inspiring lectures, including the Montesquieu Lecture 2018 delivered by Prof. David Kennedy on ‘Law, Expertise and Global Political Economy’, and ‘Data and Fundamental Rights’ by Dr. Angela Daly. Moreover, we had the chance to present for different audiences ourselves. Internally at Tilburg University, this included a brainstorm session on our research proposal that we organized in the first month of the Fellowship with colleagues from both the legal and humanities departments; an invited talk at the PI.lab (Privacy & Identity Lab) quarterly event in April, in which we focused on issues of identity and secrecy in the context of digital libraries and indigenous heritage; and a guest lecture in May in the course ‘Imagining Justice. Introduction & Humanities’ for the Liberal Arts and Sciences program of which Prof. Witteveen was the founding dean. In the lecture, we introduced the students to intellectual property law and the specific case of regulating access to indigenous heritage in digital libraries from legal/non-legal and dominant/non-dominant perspectives.

Furthermore, the Fellowship enabled us to participate in and present externally at international conferences in the summer, namely the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP)’s annual workshop in Rome, this year centering on intellectual property and heritage in an interdisciplinary setting; and the annual congress of the International Association for the Advancement of Teaching and Research in Intellectual Property (ATRIP) in Helsinki, exploring the role of fairness, morality and ordre public in intellectual property law and policy.

In sum, throughout the Fellowship we have had very valuable opportunities to grow and sharpen ideas, and to continuously find new angles. We therefore hope to be able to develop and continue with this line of research that the Fellowship has helped us shape. We have also felt very included in the law & humanities environment at Tilburg University. For these reasons, we highly recommend early career researchers to apply for the Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law & Humanities 2019.

Rakhshan Rizwan (2017)

I was honoured to be the 2017 recipient of the Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law and Humanities which I received at an opportune time in my personal and professional life, and which greatly enriched the quality of my doctoral research. Although I was formally situated at the Tilburg Law School, I also had contact with colleagues from the School of Humanities. As such, I benefited immensely from the critical feedback and encouragement of both legal and literary scholars. My PhD project, which was in its concluding stages, needed a final nudge towards completion and the Witteveen fellowship enabled me to accomplish this in a positive and nurturing environment.

Although Prof. Witteveen is no longer physically present at the Law School, his former colleagues and students continue to keep his legacy alive. He is remembered through fond anecdotes as a man of immense intellectual curiosity, generosity and wit. This spirit of openness is still present within the halls of the Law Department and was a staple during my stay at Tilburg.  I was enthusiastically welcomed from my first day as a Fellow and was offered the unique opportunity of discussing my interdisciplinary research with members of both the law and the humanities faculty. I found the environment at the Department of Public Law, Jurisprudence and Legal History, cordial and intellectually stimulating.

During my time at the university, I participated in the “Refugees, New Speakers and Global Law” Research Impact in Action Workshop as a speaker. My presentation focused on literary narratives composed by Kashmiri Pandit refugees and highlighted how literature could prove instrumental in articulating the lived experiences and voices of refugees and help legal practitioners re-think and re-conceptualize generic juridical categories such as “refugee” or “asylum seeker.” The title of my presentation was, “Literary Voices in Testimonies: Anglophone Kashmiri Pandit Narratives.”

I attended a mock-PhD defense which had been organized during the weekly lunch talks at the Law School. The topic of the PhD was interdisciplinary, and the project uncovered legal discourses in the “Doubting Thomas” biblical allusion, and its literary reappropriations within the canon of modernist French Literature. I also had the pleasure of attending the 2017 Montesquieu Lecture delivered by Prof. Boaventura de Sousa Santos.

I introduced the critically acclaimed Bollywood film, Haider, at the Black Box Theatre. The film explores the pleasures and politics of Kashmir, from a local Kashmiri perspective. This film was screened as part of the “Law and Politics Film Series” which was organized monthly.  I contributed a journal article to the Tilburg Law Review Special Edition on “Translating Law” which will be published in 2017 in Prof. Witteveen’s memory. In addition to this, I gave a talk as part of the “Global Law Lab Seminar” series and the title of the talk was “Anglophone Kashmiri Bildungsromane: Human Rights Advocacy through Narratives of Pleasure.” The talk heavily drew upon my doctoral research which focuses on the intersections between creative literature and human rights. In my PhD project, I attempt to show how literary works can be used to draw attention to human rights atrocities. I focus largely on Anglophone writings – in the form of memoirs, prison narratives, coming of age novels and poems – emanating from Kashmir and Kashmiri diasporas in the West, which I posit fall within the genre of “human rights literature” and engage in human rights advocacy. I am interested in the transformation of the international book market into an advocacy network for publicizing human rights infringements and the mobilization of metropolitan reading publics as human rights activists and ethical agents.

Typically literary narratives in the service of human rights focus on representations of bodily pain, torture and corporeal suffering. These representations are a means of moving readers into solidarity with a particular marginalized community. However, in my work, I show how in sharp contrast to this, Anglophone Kashmiri literary texts employ a truly novel approach for articulating and promoting human rights.  These works use narratives of pleasure and interrupted pleasure rather than physical pain, in order to voice and propound the human rights and humanity of Kashmiri subjects.  Kashmiri literary narratives highlight how the human rights enshrined in the UDHR do not just promise protection from pain and bodily injury but also embody a vision for making human life enjoyable, pleasurable and worthwhile. As such Kashmiri texts show that the stories used within human rights frameworks should not be limited only to stories of bodily pain and suffering but must also articulate the suspension of everyday pleasures and mundane routines that follows in the wake of human rights violations.

The Witteveen fellowship enabled me to finish the final draft of my PhD dissertation while working on a manuscript for my debut collection of poems, Paisley, which will be published this coming September. I am grateful for the opportunity of meeting and befriending so many interesting colleagues at Tilburg. My office on the fourth floor of the Law School, overlooking the peaceful sun-lit campus, was a wonderful space to consolidate my scholarly and creative work. I will always look back fondly at my time in Tilburg and I am sure this fellowship will prove to be a career milestone in the lives of many other early-career researchers working in the field of “Law and Humanities” in the future.

Nayeli Urquiza (2016)

The Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law and Humanities gave me an incredible opportunity to bring into dialogue different disciplines at a highly innovative, interdisciplinary, and research-intensive institution. During the fellowship, staff at the International Victimology Centre (INTERVICT), and other departments at Tilburg Law School and the School of Humanities, were supportive and open. In the time I spent there, Tilburg Law School was not only a rich environment to kick-start new research after concluding my PhD, but I also learned about and from the diverse research projects conducted by all of the staff and visiting researchers (faculty, graduate and postgraduate students). During those three months, I was fully immersed in the academic community, participating in reading groups, research groups, lectures, and semi-formal presentations.

As an early career legal scholar, the fellowship offered the necessary resources and environment to develop, present, and reflect upon the meaning of interdisciplinary research in law and the humanities. Whilst specialized in feminist legal studies and crime, the goal of the research project was to re-read Euripides tragedies in light of vulnerability studies in queer and feminist theory, in order to better understand and critique ‘crimmigration’ law, which refers to the intersection between criminal law and migration administrative regimes and is characterized by the punitive techniques and penal ideologies driving its rationale (for example:using preventive deportation, definite and indefinite detention, electronic tagging).

Drawing on literary critique, feminist and queer legal studies, and critical approaches to law and regulation, the lecture compared and contrasted the hospitality practices in the tragedy of Medea with the crimmigration ethos underpinning contemporary migration policies towards all undocumented or irregular migrants. European media and political bodies present the influx of refugees coming from various neighbouring continents as a “crisis”. However, I suggested the so called refugee crisis is rather a “crimmigration crisis”, where both the categories of economic migrants and vulnerable refugees, although governed by various legal frameworks, are fragile to the increasing pressure to securitize European borders.

As shown by the EU-Turkey Joint action plan. among other practices, Europe is shutting down the gates without truly reflecting on the political and ethical consequences of pre-emptively criminalizing ‘strangers’ as a strategy to barring them a place to dwell. Thus, I suggested undocumented migrants entering or trying to enter Europe face are subject to ‘’crimes of hospitality’’, that is the violation of the laws of hospitality as conceived in antiquity, and elaborated through the themes of supplication and hospitality in ancient Greek tragedy and mythology. By analysing Euripides depiction of the tragedy of strangers’ vis-a-vis the conditional hospitality of the city-state in Medea through a feminist and literary analysis of supplication, I suggested that ‘’crimmigration” evinces yet is yet another expression and method of excluding anyone who is considered different from humanity. One of the consequences of so doing in law, is that some people will afford the protection of the law in the form of legal personality and citizenship.

During the fellowship, I also presented a paper to the Department of Public Law, Jurisprudence, and Legal, in which I suggested that the critical jurisprudence on legal personhood has been overtly focused on the visual or aesthetic quality of the mask of the civic theatre of Athens as a visual analogue for legal personhood, whilst other aspects of ancient acting, such as the role of the voice and choreography, have been side-lined by the jurisprudential analysis. Reading through novel interpretation on the role of the mask in ancient theatre and its relative importance in relation to other elements in acting, I suggested lines of reinterpreting legal personhood through a sketch of Adriana Cavarero’s philosophy of the voice and Judith Butler’s gender performativity. The research carried out ought to be drafted into a couple of articles.

Although I never met Prof. Witteveen, it was notorious the impact had had on his colleagues and students the moment I stepped into Tilburg Law School.  Inspired by the Editorial Board of the Tilburg Law Review, which put together a very interesting call for papers which reflects about law and its relationship with translating legal claims, disciplines, etc., I will also collaborate in a special issue dedicated to Prof. Witteveen’s legacy to be published in 2017. Overall, the fellowship is a unique opportunity to pursue inter-disciplinary research in a supportive, highly-qualified, and international academic community.

Michiel Bot (2015)

Given my training in Law, Philosophy, Cultural Analysis, and Comparative Literature, the Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law and Humanities provided a wonderful opportunity for me. Although I never had the fortune to meet Professor Witteveen, I benefited greatly from the space he helped create in Tilburg for interdisciplinary research and teaching grounded in the close interpretation of texts. This space is embodied in the strong institutional connections between Tilburg Law School and the Liberal Arts and Sciences Program, but it is also very tangible in the receptiveness of scholars working in a wide variety of disciplines to research and teaching that focuses on the role of language and the imagination in law, politics, and culture.

While in Tilburg, I had a chance to get to know many of the faculty, both in the Law School and in the School of Humanities, who demonstrated an interest in my research and shared some of their own research with me. I attended lunch talks, a conference on travel writing, and a roundtable on the future of Dutch universities. I gave a lunch talk at the Law School on “The Right to Literature,” and I participated in a roundtable on “Freedom of Speech” during the opening conference of the Liberal Arts and Science Program, where I reflected with students on the question, not where the limits of free speech are to be placed, but why freedom of speech is important in the first place. Because I had organized a roundtable on academic freedom during a postdoc at Bard College, Tilburg Law School also encouraged me to participate in the Hendrik Muller summer seminar on academic freedom at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam.

The Witteveen fellowship allowed me to dedicate myself to my research full-time for three months, and to work freely on a beautiful campus surrounded by hospitable and interested colleagues. I am very grateful for this opportunity, and I am confident that the fellowship will continue to promote research in law and the humanities in the Netherlands.