Publication Details

M. Leiboff, 'Law's empiricism of the object: how law recreates cultural objects in its own image' (2007) 27 The Australian Feminist Law Journal 23-50.


Watch an antique or collectables show on television, and more often than not, one segment is devoted to testing the knowledge of an expert panel (and sometimes members of the public) with a problem or 'mystery' object. The object of the exercise (no other word will do so the pun must stay), is to find out what the object actually is, what it was used for, and when it was used. Sometimes the experts know what it is, but more often than not, the host has to tell them. The only way an object can provide some kind of objective knowledge about itself is in terms of a weighing and measuring exercise, but without more, the object is bare, meaningless, and lifeless. The appearances of objects can be deceiving, as Mieke Bal is telling us, because pure and certain objects are meaningless without context, meaning, value, or significance. Meanings and values discursive factors - have to be imposed on these objects in order to make sense of them as objects of culture or objects of value. The only things that an object can tell us with precision are those things we impose upon it.