Craterology & Legal Geography – searching for law and other meaning in quarries and elsewhere
January 14, 2013 4 Comments
I’ve spent a lot of time writing about bunkers and bunker-hunters in recent years, so it is with a tongue pressed firmly in my cheek that I declare 2013 as my year of writing about quarries. It’s not that I don’t mean it (I do) – but I’m fully aware of the need to be seen not to be taking this all too seriously. And yet, I’m not just looking at those who playfully enchant these places, I’m also studying those who own them, and do their best to manage them. So, some of the time I need to be very serious. I’m writing for two different communities, about one place type with me in the middle trying to make sense of both sides, and shuttle alien perspectives back and forth across the mid-line.
So, hello craterology
But, having caused some friction (and hopefully some insight) with ‘bunkerology’, this is probably the one and only time that you will see me talk of my projects under the label ‘craterology’. But, essentially that’s what I’m up to: investigating how people go about making sense and order within areas of hollowed out stone.
Alongside some more user-aesthetics based investigations of these spaces, this year will be about writing up my study of the British Mountaineering Council’s quarry managing (and climbing encouraging) practices, and seeking out further angles from which to think through my research question ‘how do people interact with these places?’, and in doing so also address the sub-question ‘and how do these people make sense of both the rock and each other?’
To kick off, I will soon be posting up another blog post that will link to a short article by me for popanth.com on climbers’ reactions to a graffiti incident in a former North Wales slate quarry. And more will follow in due course on culture clashes and normative orders in abandoned quarries.
But it’s actually the ‘other’ side of my work that I want to flag today. The BMC invited me to spend time with them learning about how they manage their quarry/climb sites, so that I could see owners who are not averse to climbing from a liability point of view, and how they achieve that equilibrium. My study will consider how they do that, and also examine why most other owners of these places are less relaxed and instead see the idea of recreational access to these places as a major risk issue. All sorts of issues, and ways of reading place and risk, tumble out of this.
And the origin for all this focus on meaning making? Well, I’m an environmental lawyer by training, but in recent years I’ve been publishing mostly in cultural geography journals. So, any opportunity to square the circle and write about all the angles that interest (or distract) me in one unified place is the holy grail. That’s essentially what this blog site is about: me sitting up on the fence, looking at both sides and trying to squeeze views, information, juxtapositions in both directions through the mesh.
So, today was especially satisfying, for with Antonia Layard (University of Birmingham) we’ve issued a call for papers on law and geography for the 2013 Royal Geographical Society conference. Our aim is to get the ball rolling towards establishing the legal geography hybrid as a worthy branch of both law and of geography scholarship, by building a conversation with all interested parties on how law and spatiality/matter co-act to construct place and space. And this is not a domain incursion – law trying to colonise a corner of a rival discipline. No, it’s more humble than that. It’s based on a realisation that spatiality and physical matter need more attention in legal scholarship, and that geographical sensibilities probably help to point us in the right direction.
As Antonia (who is Professor of Law & Geography, the first such appellation that I’m aware of in the UK) puts it, what seems to connect those projects that qualify for a putative legal geography is a concern to investigate law’s spatiality ‘from the ground up’: the studies we are thinking of start with the experience of visiting and/or being at a site. The analysis that then follows is grounded in the physical reality of that site, as it refracts through the discursive layers of site practice, local understanding, and thereafter appreciation of the wider context, and imposition of more formal legal frameworks onto places of that type, and people of the type who manage or visit them.
And that neatly brings me back to quarries – start at site level, understand the local normative order and the actors through whom it manifests, think about the interplay with the physical and the wider discursive context and formalities. Then pull it all together.
So, here’s the CFP if anyone’s interested in joining in the conversation:
Call for Papers and Contributions – Legal Geography Submission Deadline for papers – Friday 8th February 2013 (other contributions can come later, please see below). Organisers – Antonia Layard (Birmingham) and Luke Bennett (Sheffield Hallam) Legal geography is an emerging discipline, located both within geography and law and society studies. At its core, it draws on legal and geographical techniques and concepts to understand ‘the role and impact that space and place have on the differential and discursive construction of law and how legal norms and practices construct space and places’ (Blomley 1993, 63). While legal geography has been an emerging discipline for some time particularly in North America, it is not yet a clearly defined site of research in the UK or (with some notable exceptions) internationally. With the 2013 RGS Conference theme of ‘new geographical frontiers’ this seems as good a time as any to try to develop, collaboratively, how legal geography (or geographical law) might be understood and undertaken in the UK and beyond. We make two proposals for sessions. The first is for a Roundtable on Legal Geography and we would be very interested in hearing from anyone with a paper that engages explicitly with legal geography as a discipline, mapping the subject in some sense, investigating the subjects, techniques and approaches that legal geography uses. We also hope to organise a world café session, which would be entirely participatory aiming (perhaps) at creating some initial networks, contacts, collaborations (for grant or scholarly purposes), bibliographies or ideas for further research. Please do get in touch if legal geography holds any interest at all! (firstname.lastname@example.org). Antonia Layard Professor of Law & Geography Birmingham Law School