Sociolegal model making 8: Pop-Up Museum of Legal Objects

This is the eight in a series of experiments (firstsecondthirdfourthfifthsixth and seventh) investigating how model making can be used in sociolegal research processes. As these experiments have progressed I have come to realise that my intention is to understand how we can, and why we might, make sociolegal research ‘visible and tangible’.

This experiment is similar to, and builds on, Sociolegal model making 7: object-based commentary in a curated space, in that it focuses on the strategy of object-based commentary. It differs in that it took place in an academic, rather than a curated, space. Consequently the objects at the centre of the commentaries were ‘visible and tangible’ not in their original form, but as images and models.


Lisa Dickson, Sophie Vigneron and I issued a call for submission of abstracts to a unique Pop-Up Museum of Legal Objects theme at the Sociolegal Studies Association Annual Conference April 5-7 2017 in Newcastle.

The abstract format was unusually prescriptive:

  • Chosen object currently both (a) physically and (b) digitally on formal public display via a museum, gallery or similar institution anywhere in the world.
  • What is your current research question?
  • How might your chosen object help you to answer your current research question?
  • What research benefits / limitations might be associated with using objects in this way?

Applications were welcome from those who were unable to attend in person to make the event as accessible as possible.

Participants were asked to prepare a 20 minute verbal commentary and to build a model of their chosen object. The latter request prompted some requests for advice and clarification, but most seemed to relish the challenge.

Meanwhile I began to make the project visible and tangible: designing a foldable guide to the objects and a sign to add to the Pop Up Museum display mat (which had been initiated at the Legal Object Workshop); and adding the abstracts to the online Pop-Up Museum of Legal Objects (also initiated via the Legal Object Workshop).

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Twitter was used by me and some participants to highlight the event, identify some of  the chosen objects and show the process by models were made.



In Newcastle, the uniquely visible, tangible and co-created quality of the theme was more apparent than ever.

We began by folding the object guides.

During the three theme sessions, participants placed their models on the large format Pop Up Museum of Legal Objects display mat at the front of the room.

Presenters referred both to their objects and to their models and adopted a range of approaches to both- some more metaphorical others more literal. Sometimes the objects and models offered the perfect way to illustrate or summarise a legal point the presenters had already wanted to make; sometimes the objects and models generated new avenues of inquiry.

In every case the presence of the model, displayed on the mat with all the others, seemed to offer a different, more open, points of contact for all present. One presenter, Steve Crawford, built a model of his commentary on an A0 sheet, drawing his audience in as he filled pre-identified slots with images and text as he spoke.


A brief video snippet of each presentation was live tweeted.

A slideshow including images of the objects and a snippet from the commentaries was projected in the main refreshment area throughout the conference.

After the three presentation sessions were complete the display mat, guide, and models were transferred to the same area as the projection: objects, guide, commentaries and models united in a more public sphere.


An edited video documenting this project will be posted on Vimeo and above in due course. Extended versions of most of the commentaries will appear as an Autumn 2017 special issue of the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly. The Pop-Up Museum of Legal Objects will continue to expand with new commentaries.