Legal Geography Colloquium Examines Power of Space

By Loren Michael Mortimer - Legal geography continues to emerge as a burgeoning interdisciplinary approach. On December 4, 2015, at International House Davis, a colloquium entitled "Giving Law Space" furthered that emergence by exploring environmental justice, racialization of space, and contested articulations of rurality.

john a. powell, the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion at UC Berkeley, opened the symposium with a theoretical overview of the way space creates social hierarchies. Professor powell argued that societies construct poverty by creating “spaces of concentrated disadvantage”—that is, by confining racial minorities to marginal neighborhoods where opportunities for employment, education and housing are scarce.

This process is reinforced by practices such as racial profiling by police in predominantly white neighborhoods. Space thus becomes a means of socially demarcating “who belongs” and “who does not belong.”

Corporate power

Professor powell identified four spatial dominions: the public, the private, corporate, and non-public/non-private. Marginalized individuals—undocumented workers, the homeless, convicts—occupy the non-public/non-private sphere as they are denied both public protections and material access to private accommodations.

For powell, the increasing influence of corporate power highlights a growing misalignment in contemporary society. The proportional decline in investment in the public sphere further swells the ranks of individuals confined to non-public/non-private spaces.

By interrogating the very concept of property, as well as the spacial and structural arrangements through which it is configured, powell’s talk foregrounded the major questions that would recur throughout the day’s panels. He encouraged scholars to think about exactly who benefits from particular spatial configurations, and which groups become marginalized.

The following papers were presented:

  • Protecting People, Protecting Places: Foregrounding Rurality in Environmental Justice Litigation
    Lisa Pruitt, School of Law, UC Davis
  • The Racial State of Municipal Governance: Policing Bodies and Space for Profit
    Jodi Rios, African American Studies, UC Berkeley
  • Nairobi: The Colonial City That Never Was
    Bettina Ng’weno, African American & African Studies, UC Davis
  • Chinatown Imaginings: Race, Gender, and Creating San Francisco’s Other
    Tarecq Amer, Geography, UC Davis
  • Untold Histories of California’s State Water Project
    Beth Rose Middleton Manning, Native American Studies, UC Davis

This event was co-sponsored by: Center for Regional Change, UC Davis School of Law, Davis Humanities Institute, Institute for Social Sciences, California Communities Program, and Native American Studies.