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Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos and Victoria Brooks

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Anna Grear

Law’s paradigmatic subject has been criticized, especially by feminist theorists, as being relatively invulnerable, complexly disembodied, rationalistic and separative. This is a subject at a constructed ‘centre’ for whom living materiality – even the human body itself – is merely an extended, object-ified periphery – and for whom epistemological mastery and a scopophilic view ‘from nowhere’ reflects a relentlessly assumed ontological priority. Against the impugned Cartesian and Kantian assumptions underlying traditional liberal legal subjectivity, and its subject-object relations, this chapter explores the theoretical gains offered by foregrounding, in place of the ‘autonomous liberal subject’, the notion of vulnerable, embodied eco-subjectivities explicitly interwoven within a vulnerable ecology. What implications could or should such a theoretical approach have for environmental law and processes? What might replace the binary subject-object relations assumed by the autonomous liberal subject, and what kind of juridical imaginary might be instituted by foregrounding the openness and affectability of vulnerability?

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Bettina Lange

The purpose of this chapter is to facilitate socio-legal research about environmental law ‘in action’ by introducing three perspectives which can serve as heuristic devices for conceptualizing ‘nature-society’ interactions in environmental law ‘in action’. The first perspective suggests that we can trace through legal texts, as well as Guidance Documents and enforcement practices, how nature and society become represented and constructed in specific ways. A second approach, which builds on Actor-Network Theory, decentres law and attributes a more active role to nature. Here nature and society are ‘co-constructed’ in networks that also include law. The third approach – which is the focus of this chapter – recognizes the place-based characteristics of ‘nature’, and captures society-nature interactions in environmental law through the idea of mapping regulatory onto natural spaces. The chapter further illustrates this latter perspective through the example of Integrated Water Resource Management, a key policy concept that informs water law in a number of jurisdictions.

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Andrea Pavoni

This chapter sketches the contours of a methodological attitude aimed to explore the spatiality and materiality of law by taking abstraction seriously and using abstraction strategically. This is done through five steps. First, I briefly account for the impact that the spatial and subsequent (affective, material, post-human) turns in social sciences and humanities had on the notion of the social. Second, I draw the relative consequences vis-à-vis the law, by introducing the notion of spatiolegal. Third, I describe the way in which within the legal system, as well as legal thinking more generally, space has been systematically misunderstood. I especially focus on the case of socio-legal and critical legal approaches, highlighting how beneath their misunderstandings they betray a common incapacity to overcome the separation between law and space, thus reaffirming under another guise the opposition between the abstract and the concrete. Fourth, I tackle this question by integrating insights on the ‘real’, ‘concrete’ and ‘productive’ quality of abstractions, coming from Karl Marx, Peter Goodrich, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Along these four sections, the strategic significance of re-evaluating the notion of abstraction becomes gradually apparent, both in the political and methodological sense. Therefore, fifth, I conclude by distilling the discussion hitherto developed, and operationalise it through an empirical example. In this way I am able to show the methodological approach developed in this chapter at work, as well as to provide a minimal testing ground for assessing its usefulness.

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Emilie Cloatre

In recent years, actor-network theory (ANT), and the work of Bruno Latour in particular, have gained significant interest amongst legal scholars. This approach, derived from Science and Technology Studies (STS) and bearing various links with anthropology and ethnographic methods, has enabled new insights to emerge in relation to the ways in which law operates in everyday practices. The innovative position the approach suggests has been largely based on the breaking down of the dichotomy between nature and society, humans and non-humans, and in turn on an emphasis on the importance of materiality in social practices (and its complexity). In his early work, Bruno Latour therefore laid out the foundations of what was to become a radical rethink of sociological assumptions, by challenging the extent to which humanity can ever be imagined as being fundamentally separate from nature. Consequently, he argued that some of the most fundamental assumptions of modernity, about how knowledge is made, societies are built, and humans can relate to their environment, are mistaken and in need of revisiting. Given its deep engagement with our relationship with nature, and its grounding in the sociology of science, it is somehow surprising that ANT has not been more frequently explored in environmental law – in spite of a few examples. However, more resources are available to those wanting to imagine what an ‘ANT approach to environmental law’ may look like, if engaging with STS and the anthropology of science literature that has in recent years aimed to unpack some of the legal stories that surround environmental practices. In this chapter, I seek to bring together some of this scholarship to reflect on what ANT can bring to environmental law research. The chapter is illustrated specifically with the example of the use of natural resources for industrial purposes, and the long-standing debates on ‘biopiracy’ that have animated much legal debate since the 1990s. Through this example, I retrace the difficulty for modern environmental law to engage with practices that challenge the boundaries between nature and humanity, and the dichotomies on which law has so far operated. I explore how studies that have embraced some of the more radical claims of ANT and STS, and engaged ethnographic analyses of social practices, have illustrated how law often fails to seize the messiness of the entanglement of nature and society. I conclude by discussing how ANT, and the work of Bruno Latour, can be used more broadly by environmental lawyers seeking to reimagine the ways in which law relates to nature.

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Lucy Finchett-Maddock

This chapter seeks to approach environmental law education through a ‘speculative’ methodology of entropy in environmental law practice. It is suggested that entropy as the basis of a theory of ‘complexity’ is helpful in teaching environmental law, accounting for the complex myriad of relations between humans, non-humans and their environment, as well as relations and rights that we are yet to understand. Processes of entropy are speculative as they take in to account the dynamism and preponderance of chaos, uncertainty (‘hyperchaos’) and the unknown within and outside law and its surrounding environment. This is important in teaching environmental law, given the ever-changing and interconnected nature of the world around us. A speculative understanding of entropy therefore is argued as supporting both understandings of linear and nonlinear time, or in forms that we may not even have the words as yet to describe, thus placing understandings of space and time at the heart of environmental legal education and practice. Clinical legal education is presented as offering new possibilities of speculative environmental law practice that account for a speculative understanding of entropy, using the pedagogies of ‘Skill City’ and ‘Walking the Lawscape’ as illustrative examples.

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Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos

In an attempt to bring critical environmental law to a discussion with the current planetary challenges such as the Anthropocene and climate change, and understand the methodological challenges that ensues from such a discussion, I suggest three basic tenets from which environmental law can be examined: grammar, perspective and methodology. Grammar refers to the need for new concepts and ways of connecting the various bodies that participate in and consist of the environment. To this effect, I suggest some terms, such as continuum/rupture, human/nonhuman/inhuman, as well as geologic immersion and planetary withdrawal. Perspective refers to the way current thinking changes or at least is affected by the Anthropocene. Finally, methodology refers to the way critical environmental law must find ways to seek knowledge and the epistemological presuppositions of the limits of such knowledge. In conclusion, I offer four methodological demands of critical environmental law in order for the latter to adapt methodologically and integrate the Anthropocenic grammar and perspective.

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Robyn Bartel

Environmental law and its students stand accused of ignoring space. The degree of reflexivity given to law by jurisdiction, history, political favour and case-by-case flexibility is chimeric rather than substantive, serving only to further ensure law’s hegemonic attempts to conceal geography and to silence non-human voices. This chapter will demonstrate how analyses of vernacular knowledge and plant perspectives in particular unsettle the universalist, anthropocentric and essentialist gaze of environmental law, while at the same time offering explanatory power hitherto concealed.  An alternative methodological pathway for the interrogation of environmental law, revealing its hidden tenets and consequences, as well as a potential opportunity for reform, is presented. To transform its vision and impact environmental law must interrogate its universalist, essentialist, anthropocentric and also utilitarian assumptions.  Such a transformation involves a finer-grained attendance to geographical conditions, including not only spatial but also temporal diversity, change and emergence, as well as the incorporation of non-human perspectives and a de-centring of the human. Such lessons of contextualization and deep democratization have relevance for law and policy analysis more generally.

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Jane Holder and Donald McGillivray

As a response to the increasing combining of environmental activism and environmental scholarship, in this chapter we discuss what an environmental justice perspective brings to research in environmental law and we argue for environmental justice to act as a central and motivating purpose in this field of research. In terms of the development of critical research methods to support this we draw upon classic studies of environmental justice, as well as our own experience of using case studies to research environmental assessment and the protection of open green spaces. We suggest that collective case studies (also known as multisite or multiple case studies) offer an opportunity to map out and build up a picture of common concerns and losses and similar experiences of legal hurdles and challenges on the part of geographically disparate local communities. This type of case study is capable of revealing broad discriminatory and unfair practices in environmental decision making which may form part of a pattern of lack of influence and participation in decision making extending beyond the specifics of a particular site, environmental conflict or legal dispute. We outline several critical research stances which might usefully be engaged in this process of centring environmental justice by providing a framework for analysing sets of case studies: taking ‘everyday’ evidence seriously (in recognition of the procedural and distributional justice implications of the generation and application of evidence of risks and harms); identifying local/global interactions (recognising the frequently unjust dynamics which arise from the organisation of space – spatial justice implications); and the significance of spatial relationships, especially according to feminist approaches (relational justice). More practically we outline the nature of collaboration and partnership arrangements between academics and environmental campaign groups which are stimulating and supporting the development of communities of practice aimed at the sharing and application of legal and campaigning knowledge.

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Usha Natarajan

This chapter examines how the Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) movement has approached environmental issues through division into three phases: first, the period following independence, particularly the 1960s and 1970s, where Third World international lawyers prioritized natural resource governance; second, the inauguration of the acronym TWAIL in the 1990s and a movement that remained largely sceptical of and disengaged from international environmental law; and third, the contemporary moment with a resurgence of interest in the environment within TWAIL. I structure my description in three phases on the basis of the predominance over time of different methods, approaches and attitudes on the part of Third World international lawyers to the environment. TWAIL scholars self-identify as a movement more frequently than as a method. While Third World approaches have some shared methodological characteristics that this chapter identifies, ultimately it is our political commitments that unite us, including a keen awareness of the politics of method and its implications for knowledge production.