Craterology & Legal Geography – searching for law and other meaning in quarries and elsewhere


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 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.

Legal geography

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! 

Antonia Layard
Professor of Law & Geography 
Birmingham Law School


About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

4 Responses to Craterology & Legal Geography – searching for law and other meaning in quarries and elsewhere

  1. Pingback: Call for Papers and Contributions – Legal Geography | Progressive Geographies

  2. Interesting subject. There’s a quarry in Ratho near Edinburgh, that has been converted to Europe’s largest indoor climbing arena. I remember speaking to a climber friend who seemed unimpressed by it: I suspect he found the idea of climbing in such a place to be inauthentic. But further to this, I have noticed that none of the climbing faces are actually of the quarry itself – they’re all prefrabricated and sculpted concrete and plastic. I assume there is some kind of health and safety issue here, or perhaps it’s something else, but it always struck me as odd… Anyway, good luck with your call for papers.

    • Thanks Kieron, interestingly I had chance to visit the Ratho climbing centre when I was in Edinburgh for last year’s RGS conference. I was kindly given a guided tour, took some photos, and noticed that the climbing walls within the center are artificial, and the faces of the quarry within which this centre sits are cautiously designated as not being part of the venue, and are not endorsed for climbing. And yes, insurance issues seemed to play a part in this. Getting to the quarry faces (which I’m told are still climbed) required walking through a gate, past layers of signage – all making it very clear that THIS part of the quarry was not part of the climbing centre. After my visit I wrote a blog on the process of getting to Ratho by public transport. But my thoughts on the inside were held back for future craterological rumination (as yet to be written):

  3. Looking forward to seeing where craterology takes you…

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