The Rural Lawscape: Space Tames Law Tames Space
Lisa R. Pruitt
University of California, Davis - School of Law
April 2, 2013
(Forthcoming in "The Expanding Spaces of Law: A Timely Legal Geography," I. Braverman, N. Blomley, D. Delaney & A. Kedar, eds., Stanford University Press, 2013)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 330
A fundamental tenet of legal geographies scholarship is that the legal and the spatial are mutually constituting. This chapter investigates that dynamic in contemporary rural contexts in the United States. In particular, I posit that law and rural spatiality are at odds with one another because the presence of law as an ordering, governing, regulating force of state is in tension with the socio-spatial character of rurality. Law seeks to tame or control rural spatiality, but the material (low population density, dominance of nature over the built environment) and associated social characteristics of rural and remote places effectively resist those efforts. Rural spatiality’s features tend to impede the efforts of law’s agents and processes, making for a thinner, less robust legal presence.
Critical and legal geographers, like legal scholars generally, have largely ignored the rural end of the rural-urban continuum, reflecting a rarely acknowledged urban-normativity (not to mention urban hubris). This chapter begins the work of recovering the rural, bringing it into scholarly view in order to broaden our understanding of the diffuse and localized operation of law in rural places. The chapter is thus a step toward theorizing the significance and force of rural spatiality in relation to law and legal processes. But the investigation into the rural lawscape reveals something not only about rural difference, but also about the otherwise obscure nature of law as variegated and variable. Further, looking to the rural margins reveals something about the center because the process by which law differentiates the rural also depicts, at least implicitly, the default urban norm.
Keywords: law and geography, legal geography, critical geography, critical legal geography, rural, rurality, space, spatial isolation, spatiality, temporal, interdisciplinary
Date posted: April 4, 2013 ; Last revised: May 1, 2013