Edited by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos and Victoria Brooks
Chapter 11: Engaged enquiry in environmental law: understanding people/place connections through a geographically informed human rights lens
There is a growing awareness of the need to reconsider the traditional range of investigative approaches used by both lawyers and geographers as we grapple with improving the management of human impacts on the environment. In this chapter I describe a model for legal research that embraces method and methodology from the social sciences that has the potential to expand the scope and impact of research in environmental law. The argument stems from my scholarship, situated at the intersection of law and geography, which explores the connectedness between people, place and law. In such research there are ever-present core questions about the effectiveness or efficacy of environmental legal regimes. My concern is to understand whether environmental laws actually achieve what they set out to do, and this is underpinned by my working hypothesis that a better understanding of place should both inform and improve how environmental law operates. Accordingly, the methods employed in my research range from an analysis of codified law through to primary data collection, based on qualitative research methods. In my work considerable weight is placed upon the identification and critical assessment of the laws, formal and informal, that restrict the way in which local populations interact with their lived-in landscapes. This takes the form of a legal discourse analysis on the regulatory situation governing a particular place, and, as with much legal scholarship, such an approach necessarily highlights many of the deficiencies in the existing legal framework. However, this is complemented by an equal interest in the human–environment interface. To fulfil the need to explore the human/place/environment dynamic I adopt the ‘muddy boot’ tradition of geographers to develop an understanding of how people respond to regulatory regimes. In this chapter my aim is to expose the linkages between human rights and environmental protection scholarship with the place-based work of (human) geographers. This is an ambitious project; there are manifold challenges in linking the universalising narrative of human rights to enhance environmental protection. Yet, the vehicle to undertake this venture falls, arguably, to law and geography scholars – those interested in exposing the relational, heterogeneous and place-based dimensions of our world. The work of legal geographers can extend environmental law scholarship beyond an abstract conception of space towards a clearer, situated understanding of the importance of place in creating effective protective regimes. This is part of a turn towards creating a legal geography methodology in which there is a greater reflexivity about the methods of research (see I Braverman, N Blomley, D Delaney and A Kedar (eds), The Expanding Spaces of Law: A Timely Legal Geography [Stanford University Press 2014], Ch 5).
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