Vol. 16 No. 10 (October, 2006) pp.817-820
THE GEOGRAPHY OF LAW: LANDSCAPE, IDENTITY AND REGULATION, by William Taylor (ed.). Oxford and Portland: Hart Publishing, 2006. 176pp. Hardback. £35.00/$70.00. ISBN: 1841135569. Paper. £22.00/$44.00. ISBN: 1841135577.
Reviewed by: Gad Barzilai, Jackson School of International Studies and Law, Societies and Justice Program, and Comparative Law and Societies Studies Program, University of Washington. E-mail: gbarzil [at] u.washington.edu.
Space is not merely an artifact of descriptive topography, since geography is a political space that engineers various facets of social consciousness, localities and perceptions of our instantaneous environment. Studies of geography and law unveil the sociopolitical interests that structure our land environment. Accordingly, they may induce more egalitarian paths to frame and utilize the territorial space. Scholarship of law and geography should deconstruct the faulty concept as if geographical spaces are given and reflect no deeper social practices. More generally, students of law and society would be expected to argue that geography is part of power processes through which control and domination have been procreated. The unsolved dilemma is how, through which mechanisms, geographical representations – as maps and architecture – are constructing, framing, generating, challenging and reforming sociopolitical power.
The studious efforts to explore the regulative and constitutive meanings of geographical designs have gained a significant place in law and society scholarship through research of inter alia local communities, property, public policies and globalization. The edited volume on THE GEOGRAPHY OF LAW: LANDSCAPE, IDENTITY AND REGULATION is a significant endeavor to collect a series of case studies from around the globe and mainly in Australia. It explicates the likely interactions between geographical representations of the landscape, individual autonomy, law, and identity (p.1). Hence, the volume underscores possibilities of social constructions of realities (p.4) through landscape engineering and reproduction. Accordingly, its editor, William Taylor, states: “each contributor was asked to respond to one key assertion: that the design of the built environment is crucially linked to issues of identity and autonomy insofar as they are means by which desires and needs are recognized as such – a way in which our ‘inner’ lives are reconciled with our ‘outer’ world” (p.5).
Thus, the reader may benefit from a variety of local practices of landscape social engineering that intellectually spot the manipulative, political driven, essence of legalistic framing over geography. Like numerous edited volumes, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LAW should be examined through a theoretical perspective. Such a gravity point, immersed in a theoretical perspective, is not clearly articulated through the various well-documented case studies. Since the essays were invited, based on a wide-ranging intellectual guidance, the book is [*818] missing a concrete theoretical argument that underlines and conceptually unifies its essays. However, the volume enhances our ability to unveil the political interests behind the legalization of geographical space and to depict its ramifications on land design.
Richard Mohr’s chapter on “Territory, Landscape, and Law in Three Images of the Basque Country” is an excellent exploration of the articulation of domestic national conflict through maps and other graphic representations of territories under contention in modern Spain. Relying on ‘imagined communities’ by Anderson (1991), and influenced by Foucault’s (1980) deconstruction of state national sovereignty, the chapter aims to demonstrate how the Basques have endeavored to constitute their own territorial autonomy through procreating their idiosyncratic, non-republican images of the geographical space. It vigorously illustrates that minorities may frame graphical representations of the landscape to dispute the ideological myth as if a unified sovereign law is the sole normative constituent of the modern nation-state: “Where does this law come from? Weber has said that the modern state is further distinguished by its ‘monopoly on law creation’ (Weber, 1978: 705) . . . . The other images challenge uniform Spanish jurisdiction by depicting more complex relationships between the law, the land and its people. These suggest sources of law which are not common ‘law of the land’, but which are more plural or personal” (pp.22-23).
Through such de-centered theoretical perspective of legal pluralism this volume should be studied and the merit of its various case studies should be evaluated. We are encouraged to look into the ways in which legal pluralism is represented or marginalized in geography, and how those representations and misrepresentations have generated political power and challenged it. Michael Levine analyzes traditions of taste and judgment, while John MacArthur explicates traditions of gardening and parking. In “Visualising Comfort,” William Taylor depicts domestic housing planning as a means of controlling privacy and enabling more autonomy and safety. In his analysis of how domestic planning has changed since the second half of the 19th century to become obsessed with individual autonomy and physical separateness, Taylor asserts: “Whereas initially, these requirements of separateness may have entailed a physical separation – necessitated, say, by the desire to prevent a building on fire from damaging its neighbors or to prevent the spread of infectious ‘miasmas’ – separation came to organize visual concerns by the century’s end“ (p.68).
Althuogh Foucault is referenced in the chapter, as in many other essays in this volume, it remains opaque to what degree the privatization process in domestic households is harmful to human freedom. Is law that regulates building private housing through emphasizing separation and individual space damaging our social consciousness? This fundamental dilemma needs some comparative investigation but remains vague, as the author asserts: “The family home may be thought to be a site for the analysis of [*819] power at a microphysical level, the site, say where medical, psychiatric and educational discourses articulate a range of bodily and building practices. One must be mindful, however, that it is likewise the site for imagining the lingering allure of individuality, autonomy and personal freedom constitutive of the self” (p.81).
George Pavlich and Peter Kuch elucidate how spaces can be localities of accusation and foci of stereotypes against minorities and endogenous people. While Pavlich’s explorations are more historical and only loosely connected to the volume itself, Kuch’s piece addresses the collisions and cultural mutual stereotyping of both the colonial power and the endogenous minorities towards each other. Each considers the other to invade its space; each considers the other as an existential threat. Indeed, the geographical space is a battlefield through which endogenous communities and the imperial power conflict over power and rights. Michael Austin explores the political geographical landscape in Maori views in New Zealand [Aotearoa in the natives’ language]. The Treaty of Waitangi from 1840 has hampered and marginalized the Maori ownership of land. Yet, the Maori have used architecture in a way that molds and generates their unique identities in ways that also express dissent.
Akin to the Basques in Spain, the Maori have expressed their tradition through counter-hegemonic representations of the landscape. These representations have also shaped the Maori social consciousness as a minority that opposes majoritarian ideology. This has been reflected in a special type of Maori architecture that has underscored collectivism at the expense of privacy and individualism. The same idea of geographical representation as a counter-hegemonic process is explored in Richard Blythe’s chapter on “The Idea of the Town.” Blythe depicts the process through which European colonial precept of space dominated architecture in 19th century Australia. He especially emphasizes the titling process through which land was formally divided with ignorance of the needs of the endogenous minority.
The modes of public use of landscapes are certainly not given. They are rather manipulative processes of both inclusion and exclusion that reflect social practices and the important distinction between hegemonic groups who have power and the have nots, as Kristine Miller demonstrates in her study of building architecture in NYC. She asserts: “while a landscape architect might design a space that has the flexibility to support various uses, offers physical accessibility, and provides spaces that can be temporarily co-opted by different individuals and groups, that same site can be made inaccessible by what constitutes appropriate ‘use’” (pp.140-141). Conflicts over political control of space lead people to conceive what the space is and what they can (and cannot) do in it. As I have noted in referring to other chapters in this book, because it molds public consciousness, geographical space is subject to political control and political manipulation. [*820]
Whether law is reformed through the design of landscapes depends on the success of counter hegemonic communities in offering alternative readings, constructions and usages of the land. This book significantly shows how geographic representation is a crucial intermediating factor between political power, on the one hand, and resistance to it, on the other hand.
Anderson, Benedict. 1991. IMAGINED COMMUNITIES: REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGIN AND SPREAD OF NATIONALISM. London: Verso.
Foucault, Michel. 1980. “Questions on Geography” in C. Gordon (ed.) POWER/KNOWLEDGE. SELECTED INTERVIEWS AND OTHER WRITINGS, 1972- 1977. New York and London. Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Weber, Max. 1978. ECONOMY AND SOCIETY: AN OUTLINE OF INTERPRETIVE SOCIOLOGY. (2 volumes). Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (eds). Berkeley: University of California Press.
© Copyright 2006 by the author, Gad Barzilai.
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