Legal Aesthetics in The Touching Contract: Memory, Exposure and Transformation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


This paper considers how an artwork might play a role in the political, legal and aesthetical ‘working-through’ of historical injustices. With specific reference to Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones’ participatory performance project, The Touching Contract (2016), we consider how traumatic affects from Ireland’s past continue to shape the present. Drawing primarily on the work of Jacques Rancière and Bracha L. Ettinger, we argue that The Touching Contract has the capacity to transform participants’ relation to legal history in two ways. First, by juxtaposing unspoken histories of female bodily vulnerability in relation to law with legal form during an encounter with participatory performance, this art project generates ‘mystery’, producing a productive ‘interval’ (Rancière) between the common sense of legal history and its potential re-calibration. Second, in its production of a relational ‘affectosphere’ (Kinsella), The Touching Contract provokes participants’ capacity to engage with that interval, to be genuinely affected by the transmission of legal history and respond to it in new ways.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalLaw Culture and the Humanities
Early online date18 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Jan 2021


  • Ettinger, Ireland, Rancière, affect, contract, law and aesthetics, law and art, performance, trauma