What’s so special about bunkers anyway? – a tentative answer from the RGS Cold War Bunkers sessions

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What’s so special about bunkers anyway?

That question came up yesterday, at the RGS 2014 conference’s day-long session on Cold War Bunkers. The question was actually, what’s so special about Cold War bunkers?, but widening it out opens a bigger provocation.

As I write I’m sitting in a cramped train compartment, my elbows intruding upon my neighbour as I clumsily type this. If she glances across in this artificially intimate space she will see that I’m now writing about her. I feel compelled to type quickly so that these words will scroll up out of view. But my point in mentioning my physical predicament in writing this is that here I’m in an unusually confined space, this is a place of singular purpose (conveyance), here special codes of embodiment and behaviour rule, and where necessarily I surrender to physical forces that I cannot control (pulling my body backwards at speed to Sheffield). My view from my window is fractional, my vision half blocked by labels warning me of deadly danger should I feel inclined to stick my head out of the window, or to engage with live rail and overhead wires, in each case should I proceed to instigate an escape from this capsule using the emergency hammer presented exquisitely in a glazed recess above my head. This portion of the carriage – with its contemplation of dangerous exceptional futures, and the need to script and physically enable them is oddly bunker-like, and yet if I proposed a conference session on train spaces I don’t think I’d get 18 high quality papers examining carriage-confinement from a variety of disciplines (geography, film, theatre, anthropology, history, archaeology, heritage, architecture and fine art) from the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Cuba, Germany and Switzerland.

So, why did I get them in reply to a call for papers on Cold War bunkers? Does this imply that there is something special about studying confinement, extremis, bodies and materiality in these concrete chambers?

Probably. It’s something that I need to unpack more, but here are my first thoughts on this important question, grouped for convenience (but not as a manifesto, other formulations and critiques are possible and welcome).

Bunkers as therapy

I find that often when I let slip my bunker-thing in conversation that first reactions are a mix of incredulity and distain, a why would you expose yourself to ridicule in spending time on such a perverse topic?  To which my stock reply is either it’s the universality of your distain that I want to understand, why do you regard it as unsuited to scrutiny? or to let them simply carry on talking, because usually – within a sentence or two – they’ve started telling me about their recollections of growing up in the nuclear angst of the 1980s, of relatives with some connection to war institutions or of  a room or shed at their home that – they wonder – might be a bunker. So, something’s there, just below the surface and in bunker-talk situations it comes tentatively to the surface.

The artists participating in the bunkers conference sessions (Kathrine Sandys, Matthew Flintham, Stephen Felingham and Louise K. Wilson) all acknowledged that there work was influenced by this sublimated, formative anxiety of youth (and yes, I realise that nuclear weapons are still as real as they ever where, but the cultural situation has changed, a specifically nuclear anxiety has faded from now, and become then). Nuclear bunkers, represent a there, at which to recover something that has gone (or at least changed) since then. Thus as ruins (intact or otherwise) the abandoned bunker becomes a site for evocative reflection on a war that never was, and end that never came. And yes, that refection is made from a place of safety. It is precisely because it is past that it is safe to ponder, and perhaps even to play, with that past. The bunker (each individually, and collectively in the networks and taskscapes that they comprise in aggregate) are a join-the-dots puzzle that can now be performed and whether as recovery, recuperation and/or recreation.

And within the conference room yesterday, there was a palpable shared sense of that familiar refrain (usually reached by paragraph three of the ‘let them talk’ scenario above) Phew, it’s not just me then. Frequently it felt like a group therapy session – a Bunkers Anonymous for those still haunted somehow by nuclear bunkers.

Bunker as place of work

But (and this but was possibly the most important point to emerge yesterday). This ‘bunker as post traumatic landscape’ angle (to adopt Amanda Crawley Jackson’s phrase) is not the only form of bunker signification that can be observed at work. It is not the only reason why people draw together, in thrall to the bunker.

This was exemplified by separate contributions from archaeologists Bob Clarke (University of Exeter) and Steven Leech (University of Manchester), and by contributions by Kevin Booth and Racheal Bowers of English Heritage. These places are often held in fond regard by those who once worked there. The reminiscences these bunker visitors are not about the psychic damage of having once worked with the rehearsal of world-ending. If there is trauma at all, it is that of a job, role, communal purpose having abruptly come to an end with waves of bunker decommissioning – and the standing down of the Royal Observer Corps, at the end of the Cold War and an attendant alienation effect (Clarke calls this ‘disenfranchisement’) caused by that abandonment of roles and practices that had given ROC members a  sense of purpose (and specifically that of duty and service) and a regular acquaintance with weekends of bunker dwelling camaraderie. As Steven Leech showed us, this network of identities lives on in the recursive ritual life observable at ad hoc ‘preservation’ sites, like a former RAF radar station now manned by ex-services personnel turned volunteer guides, in each stride, word and caress exhibiting their strong attachment to the knowledges, practices and artefacts of a once purposeful bunker.

Bunker as exceptional space

The artists, and also other speakers pointed to the special spatial and atmospheric properties of bunkers, with John Beck (University of Westminster) pointing to the irony of watching films about bunker confinements within similarly confined dark spaces – cinemas. Meanwhile Katherine Sandys (Rose Bruford College) explored the use of light and sound to subtly demark what would otherwise be the pitch black, non-spaces within bunkers. Louise K. Wilson took back to Orford Ness, a military site which has – in the footsteps of W.G. Sebald’s visit – achieved iconic (and some might say hackneyed) status in bunker and ruin writing. Louise pondered the pros and cons of this eternal return to the Suffolk shingle strip and constant re-meditation on the nature-reclaiming-ruins riff as it plays out upon this site and its Pagoda-like bomb fuse testing bunkers. How many ways are there to portray sea-salted air corroding military metal and concrete, and does it matter if methods are re-performed, are we too obsessed with ‘firsts’ and originality? Dutch architect Arno Geesink (Kraft Architectuur) then guided us through is exploration of Cold War structures in Arnhem, and of their novelty as forms, and the possibilities of their creative repurposing.

And the bunker is also a novel geopolitical place – the space, practices and purposes of the bunker rendering it characteristic of a space of exception, or heterotopia. Zoe Svendsen (University of Cambridge) showed how her studies of Cambridge’s bunkers had influenced subsequent performance work on the geopolitical performance of crisis decision making within confined, purely logistical space. Ian Klinke (University of Oxford), then picked up this point in his study of the West German Government’s bunker HQ, and its war game exercises there. Thus the bunker was presented as a place of unusual atmospheres, shapes and spatial arrangements. But it was also shown to materially embody distilled geopolitical goals and single purpose logistics, forming abject citadels of death and survival via mundane repeat performance of processual rehearsals within these redoubts.

Bunker as geopolitical bodies

Ian Klinke’s paper pointed to the internal and external political effects of the bunker – situating the bunker as a localisation of vital nodes of geopolitical systems, and in doing so brought forth from the inevitable focus upon the confined spaces and logistics at work there, a sense of the bunker as a place of bodily conditioning. This theme was also developed by Silvia Berger Ziauddin (University of Zurich) in her examination of the Swiss Government’s requirement that all domestic dwellings must have a basement bunker – a requirement still in force today. She pointed to the dual relationship of technical compliance with this physical directive, but with the widespread flouting of related commands seeking to condition citizen’s bodies and their weekly routines, rather than their buildings. These performative ordinances never managed to turn the Swiss into regular testers of their own bunkers, and despite such (unenforced) requirements for dry-runs and attentive upkeep of their shelters, a diverse range of cultural engagement (and non-engagement) with these ubiquitous bunkers ensued.

But bunkers come in all shapes and sizes, with markedly different degrees of visibility. In contrast to the Swiss government’s hollow exhortations seeking to prompt a public engagement with their domestic bunkers, state secrecy was the order of the day in UK Cold War – Martin Dodge (University of Manchester) and Richard Brook (Manchester School of Architecture) highlighted the limits of their archival based attempts at researching the still closed to access Guardian Exchange complex beneath the streets of central Manchester. Here, the lingering effect of official secrecy and techno-bureaucratic exceptionalism deny any glimpse of this bunker or of those who worked there. Here, the bunker’s geopolitical bodies are those conditioned to be excluded from access to it, either physically or in terms of clear representation of it.   This theme was echoed in a number of papers via the notion of ‘hiding in plain site’ – that such bunkers (in terms of there sheer physical existence at least) are never hidden from view, yet somehow we learned not to notice them. Stephen Felmingham (Plymouth College of Art) shared with us his attempts at finding ways to mobilise peripheral vision as a way of bringing the half-noticed into view in his ROC post drawings. This contrasted interestingly with Gunnar Maus’ (University of Kiel) work to characterise public engagements in (the former) West Germany with Cold War remains. Maus showed how the same mundane bunker-objects (in his distributed local stores for demolition munitions) were the subject of signifying attention by a variety of communities of practice, with each took from that material the opportunity to construct different uses, and knowledge accumulating and circulating practices about these multiple bunkers – and whether as state heritage official, bunkerologist or geo-cacher. Yet still – for most passers-by, these structures remained unnoticed amidst the West German border’s roadways, bridges and forests.

Bunker materialities

Stephen Felmingham also showed us close up the mundane materiality of the ROC Post form as it was co-opted into his drawings, performed on-site in the bowels of these small dank chambers, soot and other residues purposively incorporated into his pictures. Elsewhere we zoomed out to a wider scale. Bunkers are places where form unapologetically follows function, and yet these monolithic structures, where visible above ground can take on mountain-like or monumental forms. Artist Matthew Flintham (University of Newcastle) took us – through lingering film treatment – to a vast concrete fort establishment in Norway, co-opting a group of children as guides to the surfaces, textures and scale of this now ruined structure – in doing so positioning this man-made mountain within its landscape, unsettling clear notions of where the bunker ends and ‘nature’ begins. This point was also brought to the fore in Maria Alejanda Perez’s (University of West Virginia) work on the revolutionary and military interest in cave complexes within Cuba during the Cold War, reminding us that many of the larger bunker complexes around the world are actually modified cave systems and/or former underground stone quarries. The seeming semantic gap between man-made and natural places of confinement and shelter is destabilised by such hybridisation, concrete and limestone are two variants of essentially the same matter.  Here stalactites – to be found emergent in both – come into play as linking devices, reminding us that underground structures are more unstable than their surface cousins – under attack constantly from water ingress from above, below and all around. These subterranean chambers defy the water which they have displaced from the surrounding earth, but that water seeks ways back in, afflicting the bunker and artefacts and people in it with dampness, mold and calcite formations, testifying to the particular dynamics of water led ruination faced by the bunker, as illustrated by the early fortunes of York ROC HQ bunker after it came into the hands of English Heritage, and the curators struggled not just with questions of authenticity, but also those of air quality. The underground bunker, then – stands in unique testimony to the limits (or at least the difficulties of) human colonisation of the ‘underworld’, yet also of its affinity with the universality of cave dwelling.

So, that’s what I’ve come up with so far. The question (what makes bunkers special) is still bouncing around in my head. There is more to be done on this, and no doubt it will influence the edited volume that we’re now planning as an output from this day spent peering into the bunker.

RGS 2014 – ‘Moving forward with Legal Geographies’ – final session details

Sherfield Building

Antonia Layard (University of Bristol) and I are convening three sessions on legal geography at the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference in London at the end of this month. A previous post on the overall aims of the sessions is here, and now below are the abstracts of the individual papers:

When?: Wednesday, 27 August 2014, 9am to 4.20pm

Where?: Imperial College, London in Sherfield Building, Room 8

How?: Details of booking procedures and the full RGS 2014 programme are here.

9.00 – 10.40am, Session 1: Legal productions of spaces and environments

Recovering Whigs and Hunters: Imagining a political-legal ecology

Wendy Jepson (Texas A&M University, USA)

Legal geography and political ecology address a common set of concerns about space, place, and nature that include the nature of property, access, power, illegality and governance. Yet these two epistemic communities have little common vocabulary or meaningful debates to precipitate lively engagement beyond cursory citation or footnotes. Critical legal geography skirts along the edge of political ecology, yet seems to fold back into broader debates within human geography on scale and the production of space. Political ecology adopts a rather limited instrumentalist interpretation of the law. To address this tension and missed opportunities, I turn to EP Thompson’s history Whigs and Hunters (1974) as a new starting point to consider what conceptual advances may be made by integrating these two intellectual traditions. I outline promising synergies that have the potential to move forward what I imagine as a collective critical project underlying both geographies: (1) materiality, (2) relationality; and (3) co-production. While limited in scope, attention to these three areas provide starting points to imagine what a political-legal ecology would look like, what questions it would address, and how it would contribute to an overarching critical project in legal geography.

Sequent Legal Occupance as a framework for interdisciplinary legal geography – The ‘Severnscape’

Caroline Buffery (University of Birmingham)

Recent debates in legal geography have highlighted that there is a need to develop more creative approaches to understanding the intersection between law and geography to catalyse wider inter-disciplinary interest. Such input from other branches of knowledge can deepen investigations into the relationship between law and geography, and contribute to the development of novel conceptual approaches to address the intersections between space, place and time. This paper argues that such engagement can be achieved by using a Sequent Legal Occupance (SLO) method of analysis. Drawing upon the concept formulated by geographer Derwent Whittlesey, SLO adopts law as a focus for the investigation of navigation and fisheries on the River Severn estuary. Drawing on archival resources, this paper identifies the ways in which law and geography, when viewed through an SLO ‘lens’, have both historically played reciprocal roles in the formation of the contemporary environment in terms of ‘occupance’ within and upon the landscape. Analysing the legal conflicts that occurred concerning property, rights and the river, the paper demonstrates the role of legal geography in examining the interconnection between the ‘non-corporeal’ (fish and water courses) and those that utilised these resources, arguing for a move away from the predominantly anthropocentric focus within current legal geographic approaches. The ‘Severnscape’ is revealed as a hybrid, multidimensional lawscape, affected in a multiplicity of ways by its geographical aspect, illustrating the diverse relationships between institutions, nature, and society. I argue that the SLO approach of associating the past with the present has the potential to engage the interest of a diverse audience (particularly within environmental law and policy) promoting a better understanding of the correlation between law and geography, and the effects of such a fusion on place and space.

Environmental Law and Geography in Brazil

Jonas Dias de Souza (University of São Paulo, Brazil)

Brazilian Environmental Law is defined as a set of principles and rules that regulates the relationship between society and environment. In this manner, Environmental Law and its doctrine establish a series of principles and concepts in reference of environment (natural forest, natural and artificial landscape, natural protect areas) in order to guide the application of law and make it intelligible.

This paper aims to investigate how Environmental Law and its doctrine construct a geography of the world through its principles and concepts and what are the ideologies and power relations behind this construction. We systematize the principles and concepts present in Environmental Law and analyse the discourse of Brazilian doctrine. In doing so, we dialogue with the current studies of Legal Geography (Forest, 2009; Blomley et all, 2001; Holder & Harrison, 2003) and discuss how space and law are integrated (Blomley´s concept of splice), the manipulation of geographical reality by law and social problems of such construction. We also try to contribute to Legal Geography bringing the discussions and concepts of Brazilian geographers, specially the territory concept of Milton Santos (1994), the idea of Geographics Ideologies of Antonio Carlos Robert Moraes (2005), and the concept of temisfera (the juridical sphere) of José Nicolau dos Santos (1954).

National is bad, local is good. Local legislation and the rescaling of security in Italy

Francesca Menichelli (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)

Since the early 2000s, a shift has taken place in Italy in legislative production on the topic of security, which moved from being an exclusive responsibility of central governments to being something that falls under the scope of action of regional and, increasingly, municipal authorities. While at first glance this development may seem part and parcel with the fragmentation of control brought about by neoliberalism, it actually has to be framed within the ongoing crises of legitimacy that have been affecting national authorities since investigations into political corruption first broke out at the beginning of the 1990s. On a general level, the passing of local laws on security in all but one of the Italian regions has been instrumental in formalising the role of local authorities in the provision of security to citizens and in promoting the creation of networks of exchange and co-operation linking governing bodies at different scales of government. In turn, this has contributed to the emergence of a new constitutional-legal and political order structured around the problem of urban security, which is increasingly challenging the centralist organisation of the Italian state. Taking these developments as a starting point, the aim of this paper is to unpack the idea of scale that is assumed in these texts, so as to analyse the political and deliberative process that resulted in these acts in terms of the uncritical replacement of an unproblematic, fixed and negatively connotated idea of ‘national’ with an unproblematic, fixed and positively connotated idea of ‘local’. Then, the article will go on to highlight what the tensions and conflicts are that can arise out of such narrowly defined notions of scale, and what contribution geography could offer to law-making.

Contracts, firms and competitiveness: a missing link in economic geography?

Rachel Mulhall (University of Birmingham)

Contractual agreements of all types – written and tacit – between transaction partners are a fundamental component of the organisation of production. All exchanges involve some form of explicit or implicit arrangement that reflects the nature of corporate relationships. As the manufacture of products and services is increasingly fragmented, inter-firm agreements are becoming more significant and increasingly complex. Formal agreements, and their legal implications, have a limited critique in economic geography, despite having a direct influence on two fundamental aspects of firm performance: flexibility and competitiveness. Through an analysis of the intermediate metal component manufacturing industry in the West Midlands region of the UK, the development of trading agreements between buyers and suppliers is examined. By exploring the social context in which the relationship between transaction partners is developed, the paper highlights the importance of formal contracts as a tool in inter-firm trading. The study examines the trading relationship of five case studies (buyer and supplier), which are supported by 50 further interviews in the industry and its trading partners. Contracts are based on legal geographies – a contract can only be enforced with a specified jurisdiction. But how firms use this form of legal geographies is interesting. Forms of contracts, from global to local, and their combined use with informal trust- or dependency-based relationships provide a collection of transaction agreement structures. The combination of agreements can provide both flexibility and rigidity to firms, but also binds together distinct spaces of firms and legal territory. Optimising the mix of flexibility and territory can be extremely beneficial to the organisation, both customer and supplier, but can also provide a route for the transfer of risks between trading partners.

10 – 12.50pm, Session 2 – Interrogating assumptions of legal closure

Distance to justice: (absence of) legal protections of New Mexico’s day labor community

Kevin Raleigh (University of Cincinnati, USA)

In 2005, New Mexico became the second U.S. state to pass laws protecting day labor workers, an increasing sector of the American labor pool. Understanding legislation concerning day laborer rights and practices of day labor temp agencies in New Mexico demonstrates an initial foray into bridging geography of law and neoliberalism. Furthermore, it provides additional consideration that clarifies the labor subset for whom this law applies, and calls into question the apparent redundancies and repetitions with existing federal law. By assessing the impact analysis (Clark 1989) of the New Mexico Day Laborer Act and employing a “conversational analysis” (Blomley 1989) comparing it with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the National Employment Law Project (NELP) on day labor and the day labor statutes of neighboring Arizona, this research actualizes the reality of legal closure (Blomley 1994) and maps this reality as an abstract distance to justice that these marginalized workers must – but thus far have not – overcome in the pursuit of fairness and the elimination of abuses in the work place. This research also suggests that the New Mexico Day Laborer Act creates the marginalized community of workers that it aims to protect, and that the erroneous combining of universalist statutes protecting individuals and particularist statutes protecting communities (Forest 2001) – as well as unrecognizing the breadth and manageability of space over which the law dominates – depletes the law of its power. To that end, this research demonstrates that the particularist provisions of this law are ineffectual and realistically unenforceable, while the universalist statutes, though preventative and theoretically enforceable, place the burden of proof upon the marginalized workers themselves, and thus create an insurmountable distance to justice.

Country guidance and international protection: Law, geography and the enclosure of jurisprudential knowledge

Simon Parker (University of York)
Ronan Toal (Garden Court Chambers)

This paper draws on a number of important recent cases in the UK and European Courts regarding the circumstances in which the rights of an individual seeking international protection might be breached if they were to be returned to their country of origin or a third transit country. A central feature of all such deliberations is the role played by what is referred to as ‘country guidance’. Country guidance is an official assessment of the political, economic, social and cultural situation that obtains in national territories where there are significant levels of asylum or international protection claims to the United Kingdom. Currently such country guidance is produced and issued by the Upper Tier of the UK Immigration Appeal Tribunal (the highest immigration tribunal in the UK) and its findings as a matter of fact are not open to challenge by appellants. The effect of these guidance rules has been to assign to immigration judges and their advisors the role of infallible experts on the political geography of some of the world’s most volatile and conflict ridden societies. This has potentially fatal consequences for those who, by virtue of their inability to challenge the veracity, contemporaneity and comprehensiveness of the country guidance find themselves and their families returned to circumstances in which a very real threat to their life and liberty exists. The paper concludes by identifying the emergence of a new governmentality of jurisprudential knowledge that is extending the powers of the state into domains of social scientific expertise that have remained hitherto autonomous and resistant to instrumentalisation.

Legal pluralism and the everyday politics of domestic violence law in Cambodia

Katherine Brickell (Royal Holloway, University of London)

In September 2005 the Cambodian National Assembly ratified the ‘Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of the Victims’ (DV Law). Drawing on in-depth research undertaken over a two-year period and funded jointly by the ESRC/Department for International Development (DFID), I explore the hiatus that has emerged between promises enshrined in legal reform and progress realised on the ground. Through a mixed quantitative/qualitative approach, I trace the everyday politics of DV Law from the perspective of different lay and institutional stakeholders who operate under a pluri-legal system of state-sanctioned and customary law. And I question how DV Law has been variously embraced and rejected in the homes, commune councils, and government offices that contribute to its success or failure to meet its objective, to: ‘prevent domestic violence, protect the victims and strengthen the culture of non-violence and harmony within the households in society in the Kingdom of Cambodia’.

Legal Geography: Becoming spatial detectives

Antonia Layard (University of Bristol)

Legal geography investigates the co-constitutive relationship of people, place and law. This paper (which is currently in review for Geography Compass) provides an overview of how the law and geography project emerged, and in particular the ways in which its recent scholarship has investigated how law makes spatialities thicken (and thin) at different times and locations. It explores how legal practice, in all its discretionary and rule-bound variety, co-produces places through an attentiveness to, and sometimes an apparent dismissal of, spatiality. The essay notes the formative importance of studies on power and inequality within urban governance in this predominantly critical field. However, it also considers how the cross-discipline is increasingly embracing legal geographic scholarship from within cultural, material and post-human geographies. Adopting the metaphor of the ‘spatial detective’, the essay situates legal geography as a way of examining law’s materialisation within space, considering the field’s methods, core concepts and the potential directions in which they may evolve.

Moving Forwards With Legal Geographies: Discussion.

2.40-4.20pm, Session 3 – Legal materialities

Embodied encounters and architects of neutrality in a courtroom in The Hague

Catherine Traynor (University of Leicester)

Based on a case study of ‘the heart of the international zone’ in ‘The Hague, International City of Peace and Justice’, this paper explores neutrality, geographically, materially and relationally. It is framed by the geographies of the built environment; objects and power; affect and emotion; organisational anthropology; and the critical geopolitics of identity and scale. Drawing from interviews, organisational tours and observations, the paper examines whether and how embodied accounts portray one form of neutrality as a ‘competence’ of people, places and things combined. Such competence involves the meticulous organisation of ‘truth’, ‘balance’, ‘principled decision-making’ and ‘openness’. Specifically, this paper considers how neutrality, and being ‘human,’ ‘subhuman or ‘superhuman’ are co-constructed through the organisational space of the ICTY (The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia). Finally, in the midst of a trial, the paper explores how the spatial practices of the courtroom and its occupants are both created by and delineate producers and consumers of neutrality. In so doing, it raises important questions about the relationship between international criminal law, society and space.

The law in ruins: co-production, nomic traces and the sedimented taskscapes of the world’s first factory

Luke Bennett (Sheffield Hallam University)

The Legal Geography canon rests on a principle of co-production: namely that the social, the spatial and the legal act upon each other to form the ‘nomosphere’ (Delaney, 2010) and/or a ‘splice’ (Blomley, 2003). This paper will seek – through application of such thinking to a case study – to reframe the co-productive triumvirate, as matter, discourse and practice, and thereby align the co-production model towards a more processual and relational understanding of ‘worlding’ (Massey, 2005), pointing in particular to the generative role of human purpose, context and contingency in local instances of pragmatic co-production: Ingold’s (1993) notion of ‘taskscape’. Specifically, the presentation will advance its argument by examining the ‘entanglement’ (Hodder, 2012) of matter, purpose and normativity (which I take to include – but be wider than – legal discourse) in the founding, expansion, decline and ‘rescue’ of the world’s first factory scale cotton mill, at Cromford in Derbyshire, UK. If Legal Geography’s co-production model is right we should expect not just to find material traces of law in the physical world, but also evidence of the accommodation of law to site specific and circumstantial effects of topography, geology, commercial conventions and social mores. The presentation will thus focus upon explicating the physical sedimentation of a variety of taskscapes across the site’s 250 year life, and their attendant socio-spatial normativities, within the fabric and layout of the Mill complex.

The legal and the material: Legal characterizations and geographical circulations of radioactive waste in France and the UK

Romain J. Garcier (ENS Lyon, France)

This paper analyzes the role of legal categories in the management of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste generated by the decommissioning of nuclear power plants. The paper is informed by two case studies in France and in the UK, but set in a larger European context. Faced with soaring decommissioning costs and the daunting prospect of scarce disposal sites being clogged by massive amounts of waste, France and the UK, already the two largest ILW producers in Europe, have developed strategies to enable the diversion of radioactive waste away from specialized disposal sites. Such strategies are sponsored by governments, regulators and the European Commission. They are based on legal instruments that are, I argue, powerful geographical operators because they redefine the social persona of radioactive waste and allow waste to be moved and transformed in unprecedented fashion. From a theoretical perspective, this paper aims to create a conversation between the literature on materiality and waste, and the geo-legal literature. I argue that the legal framing of objects and materials under categories and classifications is integral to them being valued and managed – but that such a framing is always a contested, contingent process, amenable to various strategic priorities and very often detached from the actual physical properties of materials. This argument has important implications, for it displaces the spatial politics of materiality from the thing itself and its agency (Bennett, Gregson) to the legal tools used to endow materials with a social persona.

The end of territory: a materialist reading of the Republic of Nauru

Cait Storr (University of Melbourne, Australia)

This paper is part of a broader interrogation into the relationship between territory and statehood in international legal thought, explored through a reconstruction of the legal history of the Republic of Nauru, a so-called ‘small island developing state’ in the Pacific and ‘canary in the coalmine’ of climate change. Rather than departing from a now commonplace assumption of the otherness of postcolonial statehood, this paper will draw on key insights of Elden on the historical development of the concept of territory, and of Latour on the misapprehension of the subject / object distinction in Enlightenment thought, in order to rethink the narrative of Nauru from the period of German administration through to its profound existential precarity in the contemporary moment. In this alternative narrative, Nauruan phosphate will be treated as an actant not only on Nauruan development but on international law itself. It will be concluded that if its precarity is to be diagnosed as something other than terminal, Nauru may be better conceptualised not as a postcolonial state, but as a state that demonstrates the playing out to conclusion of the flawed logic of nature / culture inscribed by modern statehood. It is suggested that in order to contribute meaningful responses to the precarity faced by small island states in the Anthropocene, legal geography may need to take account of new materialist approaches to structures of legal thought.

Competing rationalities of urban governance: law, administration and material power in the case of governing car parking in Tallinn, Estonia

Tauri Tuvikene (University College London)

This paper discusses the often incongruous relationship between legal thinking and administrative, material and political rationalities through the analysis of the politics of parking regulations. The study on the introduction of paid parking in 1993 and making it governable over the twenty years period in Tallinn, Estonia shows how law can fail to function, how administrative tools could be framed illegal and unconstitutional, how material artefacts escape the legal methods devised to regulate them and political interests can and often do influence the legal thinking and practice. Thus, on the one hand, the paper argues for the importance of considering the often ignored legal documents and practices in the urban governance while, on the other hand, the paper argues that law has to confront various other rationalities that might escape law’s and law practitioners’ desires and goals. The archival research, media analysis, studies of court cases and interviews in Tallinn over a seven months period in 2012 brought out a number of contradictory associations between law and other socio-material spheres. I would like to discuss two moments and their analytical implications in the paper. First, the study in Tallinn showed how the materiality of a parked car renders the established legal logics difficult to follow, suggesting thus the need to attend to how the practices of law are influenced by the often ‘uncooperative’ (Bakker, 2003) materiality. Second, the post-socialist construction of ‘state-phobia’ (Foucault, 2008) produced a political atmosphere that, among other effects, helped to render the use of wheel clamps for parking regulation unconstitutional suggesting thus the need to attend to the interplay between social and political processes and the legal deliberation.

 

Photo credit: http://felixonline.co.uk/media/photo/10/ethiopian-protest/