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Identity Deception: A Critical History

The project, ‘Identity Deception: A Critical History,’ asks when, if ever, it is appropriate to punish a person who engages in identity deception (pretending to be someone they are not).

Jamie Crewe, “False Wife” (2022) [video still]..jpg

Focussing in particular on intimate deceptions (deceiving another in order to induce intimacy, e.g., in the form of a romantic relationship, sexual encounter or marriage), the project looks at how the use of deception has been treated as a wrong that merits a legal response across the modern era (c. 1750 to the present).

The project examines civil and criminal responses to this conduct and focusses on identifying punitive and quasi-punitive responses across both spheres. It aims to construct a genealogy of the challenges that currently exist in debates about whether and how the law ought to respond to deceptively induced intimacy, including whether it is appropriate for the state to intervene, what kind of legal response is fitting, which kinds of deceptions ought to trigger a response and what kind of conduct should be considered ‘deceptive’.

The project aims to show how these challenges can only be fully understood, and therefore confronted, when situated against shifts in legal and popular understandings of intimacy, such as the cleaving apart of sex and marriage (and indeed romantic relationships more generally), the changing role of intimate relationships in self-construction, and the implications these changes have for expectations of interpersonal honesty and ‘authenticity'.

The project aims to transform and enrichen debates about how to conceptualise identity deception and how and when law ought to sanction this kind of conduct. This is not merely an academic exercise, however; these deliberations have important practical consequences for how law pursues justice. The project, therefore, aims to help shape how, and against whom, the law is applied in practice.

‘Identity Deception: A Critical History’ has been awarded funding as part of the AHRC Research Leadership Fellows scheme and led by Dr Chloë Kennedy.

Image credit: Jamie Crewe, “False Wife” (2022) [video still]..jpg.

Dr Chloë Kennedy, Senior Lecturer in Criminal Law

Dr Kelly Ann Couzens, Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Jamie Crewe, Artist

The Identity Deception project involves a creative strand, whose aim is not to create a direct illustration of the research and its outputs but, rather, to invite independent explorations of the topic and wider themes – such as selfhood, deception, and trust – and to think critically about some of the ways that law constructs and values identity and intimacy.

As part of this strand, the project is working closely with the University of Edinburgh Art Collection and has commissioned the award-winning artist Jamie Crewe.

Learn more about Jamie Crewe’s art

Learn more about the University of Edinburgh Art Collections 

'False Wife' by Jamie Crewe released on 08 April 2022 View details

'False Wife' by Jamie Crewe wins European Media Art Festival (EMAF) Award (24 April 2022) View details

EMAF Jury Statement:
"The International Jury presents the 2022 EMAF Award for Outstanding Media Art to False Wife by Jamie Crewe. From the first frame, and first beat, the viewer is unmoored from their seat and catapulted from the computer screen on your lap, to the dark corner of a club, to a brief respite in a meadow, and back again to your rigid cinema seat.

Given a 10 second countdown each time to prepare, in the vein of a poppers training video we melt together, enraptured, entangled by a folkloric shapeshifter, and nothing is the same again. Our skin, our identity peels away with each encounter completing the haptic onslaught started with ribcage rattling bass.

This is a work that inventively combines layers of manipulated images, sound and text imprinting them directly onto you at a breakneck speed. False Wife oscillates our boundaries between the individual and the collective, the body and the mind, the fixity of gender and the social contract of cinema."

Speaking engagements

Cheating death? Upload, sexual consent, and the criminal law
Online, hosted by Gikii and the Legal Institute of the University of Iceland (6-7 July 2022) View event

CLRNN 3: Consent and Deception Project - Consultation Launch
Online, hosted by the Criminal Law Reform Now Network (CLRNN) (08 December 2021) View event 

Rediscovering Feminist Histories
Online, Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities (18 November 2021) View event

Criminalizing Deceptive Sex 
Online, hosted by the Crimsoc, Lawyers without Borders and Women in Law (29 October 2021) 

Inducing Intimacy: Deception, Consent and Law
Online, hosted by the Oxford Jurisprudence Discussion Group, Oxford University (13 May 2021) View event

Personal Lives and Public Laws: Intimacy, Deception and the State
Online, hosted by the Virtual Workshop on the Political Turn(s) in Criminal Law Thinking (7 May 2021) View event

Inducing Intimacy: A History of Transforming Wrongs
Online, hosted by the Criminal Law Discussion Group, University of Oxford (8 March 2021) View event

Inducing Intimacy: critical lessons from law and history
Online, hosted by Cardiff University (10 February 2021) View event

Trust and Identity Network Sex Seminars - 'Sex, Marriage, Trust and Identity: A Brief History of Transforming Wrongs'
Online, (27 November 2020) View event

Law School Staff Seminar Series - 'Sexual Wrongs and Civil Laws: A Brief History of Seduction'
Online, Hosted by Edinburgh Law School (25 November 2020) View event

Lying and identity
Online, hosted by Lancaster University (9 June 2020) View event

The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue: Counterfeit Cash and Criminal Law in 19th C Scotland
Online, hosted by Oxford Legal History Forum (18 February 2020) View event

Bracton Centre for Legal History Research Summer Symposium 2020
Online, hosted by University of Exeter (3 July 2020) View event

Criminalising Deceptive Sex
Online, hosted by Lindsay Farmer, Antony Duff, Sandra Marshall (14 May 2020) View event

Identity Deception: A Critical History
Online, hosted by British Academy (18 May 2020) View event

Workshop on Consent
University of Surrey (16 September 2019) View event

Ethics seminar series
(9 October 2019) View event

Criminalising Deceptive Sex: Sex, Identity and Recognition
University of Warwick (22 November 2019) View event

Events Organised

Modern Histories of Consent, Intimacy and Law (17-18 June 2021)

Identity and Criminal Responsibility in Comparative Historical Perspective: A Roundtable
American Society for Legal History Annual Meeting (Postponed to 2021) View event

Trust and Identity Network Sex Seminars (Organiser)
Online, (20 - 27 November 2020) View events

Identity workshop
Online, hosted by British Academy (18 May 2020) View event


Inducing Intimacy: Consent, Deception and the Law
(in progress, under contract with Cambridge University Press)

Policy Paper

Sex, Selfhood and Deception
Kennedy, Chloë. In: CLRNN3: Reforming the Relationship between Sexual Consent, Deception and Mistake - Consultation (December 2021) View consultation paper

Blog posts

A Brief History of Seduction (Dr Chloe Kennedy, History / Sexuality / Law, 29 April 2021)

Sex, Identity and Recognition: Re-thinking ‘Rape by Deception’ (Dr Chloë Kennedy, Inherently Human, 7 February 2019)

Book chapters

Counterfeit currency and the Criminal Law in commercializing Scotland.
Kennedy, Chloë. Stair Miscellany VIII. 2020. View chapter

Journal articles

Criminalising deceptive sex : Sex, identity and recognition.
Kennedy, Chloë. In: Legal Studies, (Published, March 2021).  View article

Digital Media

Presentation - Sex, Selfhood and Deception
Kennedy, Chloë. Criminal Law Reform Now Network (CLRNN) 3: Consent and Deception Project - Consultation Launch, 08.12.2021 Watch the presentation

Podcast - Beyond Consent 
Kennedy, Chloë
. The Age of Consent 03.12.2021. (Spotify) Listen to podcast

Podcast - Deceptive Sex
Kennedy, Chloë
. Talking Research, 20.01.2021. (Spotify) Listen to podcast

Artwork - False Wife
Jamie Crewe, 08 April 2022 View artwork