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Law and the Inner Self Project: Our First Year-in-Review

Updated: Sep 11


The Law and the Inner Self (LAWINSEL) Project, funded by an Irish Research Council (Consolidator) Laureate grant, was launched in September 2022.


In this blogpost, we outline our progress to date, highlighting some key research activities in the first year of the project.


From September 2022 to July 2023, the PI, Patrick O'Callaghan was the sole project researcher. In July 2023, the core project team expanded to three, with Felicitas Benziger and Talya Deibel joining as full-time researchers.


Project Aim and Objectives


Based at the School of Law, University College Cork, our project seeks to better understand the evolution and nature of the idea of the inner self by examining it through the prism of legal change from the Middle Ages through to the digital transformations of the 21st century.


To illustrate 'legal change' in the project, we use personality rights as a case study. Personality rights, as they are understood in the civilian tradition, are what Reid calls a 'bundle of rights which protects the integrity and inviolability of the individual'. Such rights include the the right of privacy, the right to forget/be forgotten, the right to informational self-determination, the right to honour and integrity and, for the purposes of this project, the rights to freedom of thought and expression.


The project has two primary objectives:


The first objective is to undertake a doctrinal study of six bodies of jurisprudence to track the development of personality rights as they pertain to the idea the inner self. The six bodies of jurisprudence are:



Our second objective is to interpret what this legal change reveals about the evolution and nature of the idea of the inner self.



Progress to Date: Theory Building


From September 2022 to July 2023, Patrick worked on theory building, laying the groundwork for the doctrinal research under objective 1. This work led to one publication and two presentations:


Patrick in Verona

1. Patrick developed his theoretical work on the relationship between remembering and forgetting in legal discourse, using the right to be forgotten as a case study. The resulting paper was published open access in the journal, Law and Humanities.


2. In May 2023, Patrick was invited to present the conceptual framework of the LAWINSEL

project at a seminar jointly organised by the Hannah Arendt Center and the Department of Law at L'Università degli Studi di Verona.


3. In June 2023 at the LSA Annual Conference, Patrick presented a paper outlining the normative significance of viewing law and regulation through the prism of the inner self, especially in the context of socio-technological transformations.


Progress to Date: Work on Individual Bodies of Jurisprudence


During the period September 2022 to July 2023, Patrick also engaged in preliminary doctrinal work relevant to specific bodies of jurisprudence. This included:


1. Collaborative work on the right to freedom of thought, relevant to the 5th and 6th bodies of jurisprudence. For this work, Patrick was awarded UCC's Research Collaboration of the Year Award in 2023. Highlights of this research include:

  • An open access paper published in the International Journal of Human Rights, analyzing the UN Special Rapporteur's seminal report on the right to freedom of thought.

  • Collaboration with over 30 scholars from around the world on producing the first dedicated handbook on the right to freedom of thought aimed at both academic and practitioner readerships. This handbook is co-edited by Patrick and Bethany Shiner, an associate scholar in our project, and will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2024.

2. Work on 'privacy as mental autonomy', intrinsic to the 6th body of jurisprudence. Collaborating with Bethany Shiner, Patrick is writing a paper on the evolution of privacy law and how a new narrative about 'privacy as mental autonomy' is beginning to emerge in legal discourse. Patrick was invited to present an early draft of this paper at the University of Manchester in May 2023.


3. Work on the roots of intellectual property law, integral to the 2nd body of jurisprudence. At the Law and Humanities Roundtable in Verona in July 2023, Patrick presented preliminary research on how the late 16th/early 17th centuries was a pivotal period in the history of IP law, partly because of the turn towards the inner self during this period.


Progress to Date: Appointment of Postdoctoral Researchers and Associate Scholars


Felicitas (left) & Talya (right)

In July 2023, we welcomed two new team members to the project. Talya Deibel joined us as a senior postdoctoral researcher and Felicitas Benziger was appointed postdoctoral researcher. During the summer of 2023, Felicitas, Patrick and Talya developed a workplan for the remaining doctrinal research. Felicitas will lead the work on the 5th body of jurisprudence and will co-lead (with Patrick) the work on the 4th body. Talya will lead the research on the 6th body of jurisprudence and will co-lead (with Patrick) the work on the 1st body. Patrick will lead the work on the 2nd body of jurisprudence while all three team members will collaborate on the 3rd body.


Talya and Felicitas are already making significant progress in this work, for example:

  • Felicitas is authoring the report on the right to freedom of thought in the ECHR for the forthcoming Cambridge Handbook of the Right to Freedom of Thought. This report stems from work Felicitas is undertaking on the 5th body of jurisprudence.

  • Talya presented two papers during the summer of 2023 that intersect with our research on the conceptual framework of the project and the 6th body of jurisprudence. In July, she presented a paper on Law and STS at the 63. Junge Tagung Öffentliches Recht in Hamburg.

  • In late July/early August, Talya presented a paper on 'Ownership and Personhood' at the Nordic University Summer Symposium in Palanga, Lithuania. Talya is a member of the board/executive body of the Nordic Summer University.

In the first year of the project, we were also very pleased to announce that the project will have seven associate scholars: Paolo Astorri (University of Copenhagen), Bartholomew Begley (Philosopher), Fiona Brimblecombe (University of Manchester), Simon McCarthy Jones (Trinity College Dublin), Rebecca Moosavian (University of Leeds), Bethany Shiner (Middlesex University) and Joel Walmsley (University College Cork).


Two associate scholars visited Cork in 2023 to discuss their research with colleagues at UCC. On 31st March, Bethany Shiner presented on the philosophical and political roots of the right to freedom of thought. On 19th July, Rebecca Moosavian presented ongoing work on on the relationship between privacy law and commodification.


We will be further collaborating with our associate scholars on various research tasks and seeking their guidance and advice as the project progresses.


Looking to the Year Ahead: Highlights


Our main focus in Year 2 of the project will be continuing the doctrinal research under objective 1. Much of this work will be desk-based and team members will be visiting specialist libraries across Europe.


We also plan to organize a symposium on Law and the Inner Self. We will provide details on our blog in the coming months.


Our dissemination plans for 2023/2024 are still taking shape but here are some emerging highlights:

  • Patrick has been invited by the Netherlands Institute for Law and Governance to participate in their annual conference in Groningen on 15th September 2023. Patrick will present research on the right to freedom of thought pertaining to the 5th and 6th bodies of jurisprudence.

  • Talya has been invited to present research on the 6th body of jurisprudence at the Beyond Boundaries: Persons, (Bio)Technologies, & the Law Workshop, taking place on 2nd & 3rd October 2023 at Gladstone's Library in Wales. This workshop has been organised by the ‘Everyday Cyborgs 2.0: Law’s Boundary Work and Alternative Legal Futures Project and the Hybrid Minds Project.

  • In December 2023, Felicitas will complete her report on the right to freedom of thought in the ECHR. This report will be published in The Cambridge Handbook of the Right to Freedom of Thought in 2024.

  • Patrick has been invited to present the conceptual framework of the LAWINSEL project to the members of the Harvard Law and Philosophy Society on 8th February 2024.


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