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You are here: Home Archive 2016 Braverman, Irus; Blomley, Nicholas; Delaney, David and Kedar, Alexandre (eds.): The Expanding Spaces Of Law

Braverman, Irus; Blomley, Nicholas; Delaney, David and Kedar, Alexandre (eds.): The Expanding Spaces Of Law

Book review Erdkunde 70(4) 2016, 368-369 by Fabian Thiel

Braverman, Irus; Blomley, Nicholas; Delaney, David and Kedar, Alexandre (eds.): The Expanding Spaces Of Law. A Timely Legal Geography. XIII and 278 pp. Stanford Law Books, Stanford, California 2014, € 52,79

This book is about litigation which is a space creating process per se. However, what is the relevance for the investigators of “legal geography”? Law shapes geography. Geography shapes law. “It seems that law and geography has arrived”, as David Delaney (2010, p. 12), one of the leading authors of the law and geography-biotope and contributor to this volume, puts it. Law and Geography are essential parts of the Anthropocene, of the “world-making”. This interesting term is borrowed from Eckart Ehlers; it bridges the gap between the legal and the spatial dimension. The literature on law and economics, law and psychology, law and gender, land and law, land and management – to name just a few remarkable combinations of talent and perspective – is endless. In 2003, Jane Holder and Carolyn Harrison published the groundbreaking monograph on legal issue on “Law and Geography”. The authors present chapters on boundaries, land, property, nature, identities, culture, time, and knowledge. This work had the aim to overcome the geography in law versus law in geography binary and dichotomy that had existed until then. The argument was – and still is – convincing to me. Law is always “worlded” in the globalized, post-fordist, colonialized and “commoditized” world. Legal geographers pinpoint and highlight the fact that nearly every aspect of law is located (Grossfeld 1984). Likewise, geography has a legal background. It forms legal landscapes, geo-legalities, in short: geographical landscapes that are inscribed with legal significance, as Irus Braverman shows in this publication from 2014, consisting of 10 chapters written by outstanding US-legal and geographical scholars.
Of course, legal geography is not a sub-discipline of human geography, nor does it name an area of specialized legal scholarship (see the introduction, p. 1). But as geography is too important to be left to geographers and law is too important to be left to lawyers one may add that legal geography – within the comprehensive concept of land management and land policies – is too rich, interesting, and useful to be left (only) to the disciplinary boundaries of geography and legal scholarship. Although legal geography is a lively and creative line of inter-disciplinary subject in the United States, Israel and Australia, it has an embryonic status amongst the human geographers and legal scholars in Europe, particularly in Germany. Looking back, this has not always been the case. Legal geography comprises a stream of scholarship that wishes to make the interconnections between law and spatiality into core objects of inquiry clearer, as Irus Braverman and others show in this comprehencive compilation titled “The expanding spaces of law”. Law is encoded in material landscapes of property and belonging. The critical geographical legal discourse – in the sense of Nicholas Blomley (chapter 3), the obove mentioned David Delaney (chapter 10), Alexandre (Sandy) Kedar (chapter 4), and Braverman (chapter 5) – makes the legal relations between landowners and others that produce spatial arrangements visible. It deals with situations where some can be violently removed or excluded from the use of natural resources. In his interesting contribution for the publication, Michael Smith (p. 162) coined the term geo-legality at the example of the Afghanistan war in his chapter on “States that come and go” (pp. 142-166). Smith defines geo as “related to earth”; legal as “of, based on, or concerned with the law”, and law as the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties. Smith further develops the concept of geo-legalities as a myriad form of earth rulings in contrast to geography as – mostly descriptive – interpreted as “earth writing” or “earth watching”. Smith further suggests that legal geography might expand its horizons in threefold direction: (a) geographically, by extending its purview beyond the territorial container of the nation-state and the conurbations of the Global North; (b) conceptually, by consequently following the line of geo-legalities; and (c) thematically, by exploring the intersections of law, planning, geopolitics, and geo-economics (pp. 161-163).
Laws are “spatialized”: Legal means including laws and guidelines for registration range from territories (states), to internal administrative units (Blomley 2001, pp. 77-94), zones on the surface on the water and land towards small plots of demarcated property, and use rights guaranteed and maintained in cadastral registration systems. Land conflicts are ways of “constructing place and space” (Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, pp. 30-52). Conflicts cover the transfer of rights to particular spaces, inherent dynamics of territorial disputes, the territorial land reforms, collectivization, de-collectivization, and the discrepancies between customary and post-colonial state law. Since social and legal institutions, but also (human) relations and legal and religious, tribal practices are located and distributed in space, land conflicts mirror the variety of meanings of land, in economic, legal, social, demographic, administrative, religious, political, even psychological view. When disputes on the access to land and its underlying resources like minerals, gas, oil and coal become violent, the consequences are usually an intransigent enforcement of the existing legal framework.  The “Benda-Beckmanns” draw our attention towards the legally pluralist dimensions (p. 46): Cultural and legal landscape – referring to David Delaney´s nomoscape (pp. 239-262) – is a material artefact of cultural and societal action and is thus in the constant flux of processes subject to social evaluation. Actions of the stakeholders in spatial planning are integrated in superordinate framework conditions – in structures that are reflected in values, property rights, norms and symbols. A number of institutions – governmental and non-governmental – argue that land governance is a crucial pre-requisite for sustainable development; that the old fashioned concept of government in the context of land issues is no longer be the focal point of international discussions (Kedar, pp. 102-108). These common assumptions are false, as Braverman et al. indicate. Instead, governance processes focus on the processes behind and how these perform and contribute to the achievement of broader objectives under the framework of a comprehensive land policy. These discussions have paved the way for the development of concrete tools for guiding and assessing governance of land and determining priority areas for intervention.
My conclusion is this: The full potential of the (critical) legal geography with respect to the requirements of land management and its sub-layer land administration and registration, and land policies is not yet fully realized (Kedar, pp. 95-119). It is necessary to move beyond the concept, towards a dynamic land development process that emphasizes the social ties of property, but also identifies the underlying policy changes of land use by foreign direct investment, privatization, and property-led (urban) and rural development (Pruitt, pp. 190-214; Benson, pp. 215-238). Remarkable work has to be done for the law and geography field to achieve efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and fairness for the “world making” before the background of changing importance of land compared to other traditional factors of production such as knowledge and intellectual property. However, up until now, a clear theoretical approach to conceptualize the critique of hidden techniques of law in the production of spaces of belongings has not been provided yet, although it has a strong and undisputed commitment to law and space – “The expanding spaces of law”, thus of the nomosphere, offer the fruitful basis for further discussion and research.

Fabian Thiel



Blomley, N.; Delaney, D. and Ford, R. T. (eds.) (2001): The regal geographies reader: law, power, and space. Malden.

Delaney, D. (2010): The spatial, the legal and the pragmatics of world-making: nomospheric Investigations. Abingdon.

Ehlers, E. (2015): Down to earth – geography in the Anthropocene. inaugural lecture on the occasion of the International Geographical Congress 2012, Cologne, 26 August 2012. In: Kraas, F.; Soyez, D.; Butsch, C.; Krachten, F. and Kretschmer, H. (eds.): IGC Cologne 2012, Down to earth, documenting the 32nd International Geographical Congress in Cologne 26 – 30 August 2012, Kölner Geographische Arbeiten 95. Cologne, 26–32.

Grossfeld, B. (1984): Geography and law. In: Michigan Law Review 82, 1510–1519.

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