Dawn Watkins

  • Tuesday 19 March 2019
  • 5.30pm-6.30pm
  • Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1
  • Professor Watkins and Professor Lisa Smith will each present a half-hour lecture.

Playing the way to legal capability

In this lecture, Professor Watkins will discuss the concept of legal capability and what this means, or might mean, for adults, children and young people in the UK.  She will go on to explain how her Law in Children’s Lives research project, funded by a transformative grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, has contributed to the much-needed evidence base in the field of public legal education. This research has drawn on the so-called new sociology of childhood as its theoretical basis; emphasising the significance of children as competent social actors. Through taking this approach, Professor Watkins seeks to challenge the dominance of developmental theory in law and legal discourses concerning children. She will argue that whilst they might lack formal legal capacity, children may nevertheless possess legal capability.

An unusual and innovative feature of the Law in Children’s Lives research project was the creation and use of a digital game Adventures with Lex as a research tool. Using this game-based approach, Professor Watkins and her team assessed and explored the legal understanding and knowledge of over 600 children aged 8-11 years, situated in the context of scenarios that children themselves identified as being relevant to their everyday lives. The research findings identified children’s attitudes to gender equality as particular strength, and indicated that many children demonstrate competency to deal with consumer-related issues. However, the research also established that some children demonstrate considerable uncertainty concerning the levels of force that adult authority figures are permitted to exercise over them. Children were found to be competent and willing to express their views on matters that concern them, but they do not expect to be invited to do this in their day to day lives. Related to this, the research identified a vast lack of awareness among children concerning the rights afforded to them under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Theories of play are central to Professor Watkins’ research and she will conclude by explaining how she intends to extend this aspect of her work in the future; working with children to co-create a child-centred framework of attributes of legal capability; to co-create and optimise a range of game-based interventions that will both measure and improve these attributes, and to develop a specification of the process by which such interventions can be created and optimised in other populations.

Professor Dawn Watkins

Dawn Watkins 200x266.jpgDawn studied Law here at the University of Leicester; graduating in 1992. She taught for a year in the Law School after completing her Law Society finals at the College of Law in 1993. She went on to qualify as a Solicitor in 1996 but soon returned to academia, when she secured a University PhD scholarship. She began her PhD studies shortly after the birth of her first child; took a year’s break following the birth of her second child, and graduated with her PhD shortly after the birth of her third child, having submitted her thesis on time. Her PhD focused on law, literature and the visual arts and she has continued to research and publish in the field of law and humanities. 

Dawn worked part-time for the Open University, prior to taking up her first lectureship in law at the University of Leicester in 2005. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 2013. She has become recognised as pioneer in innovative, interdisciplinary research methods. An example of this is her Law in Children’s Lives project, where she drew on scholarship from multiple disciplines to lead the creation of a digital game ‘Adventures with Lex’ to explore children’s understanding of law in their everyday lives. This work was funded by an ESRC transformative grant valued at £250,000. Dawn has since secured a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council, valued at €2,000,000, to fund five years’ further research in this area. In recognition of her expertise in this field, Dawn is a regular invitee to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children and to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Public Legal Education, where she presented the findings from the Law in Children’s Lives project last year. 

Dawn has an established national and international reputation as a pioneer in legal education; based on her innovative practices and my ground-breaking pedagogic research. She was awarded a University Distinguished Teaching Fellowship in 2012 and shortlisted for the national Law Teacher of the Year Award in 2013. Dawn is now a member of the judging panel for this prestigious award, sponsored by Oxford University Press. She was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy in 2017.

Most recently, Dawn has been appointed by the Ministry of Justice as a fee paid Judge of the First tier Tribunal, assigned to the Health, Education and Social Care Chamber.

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