Chapter 23: Rendering rural property visible to law: A role for New Legal Realism
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The legal issues that impact rural people in the United States have been largely invisible to legal scholars, lawyers, judges, legislators, and the media. Unsurprisingly, people of color in rural areas have been particularly rendered invisible. This chapter demonstrates how using a New Legal Realism (NLR) framework can help remedy a failure in empirical and legal approaches in some legal scholarship that explicitly or implicitly purports to be of relevance to rural America, by requiring more rigorous questioning of framing assumptions, stereotypes, and forms of translation between social science and law. Legal and sociolegal scholars who would employ a more careful and inclusive empirical approach that would generate better data could help uncover the difficulties people of color in rural areas experience and could help improve perceptions about the actual conditions in many rural places. For example, such scholarship could help make clear that agricultural long ago ceased to be the main pillar of most rural economies, notwithstanding widespread incorrect assumptions to the contrary. The chapter concludes with examples of informed property law scholarship and policy initiatives, including the author’s own, showing how empirical research, media attention, and legal reform efforts can combine to substantially improve law and policy in rural areas.

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