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Commentator: Simon Reid-Henry, Queen Mary University of London
Commentator: Miles Ogborn, Queen Mary University of London
In this paper I explore the temporalities of land title registration systems, and the racist effects of those systems. Legal and commercial systems that require land titles to be registered produce definitive archival memories that wipe out historically created entitlements to land that are unregistered and/or unregisterable. As a range of authors have noted, title registration systems are an important mechanism in turning land into a liquid asset, (Harris 2010: 263, de Soto 2000, Pasternak 2014). Historically, land title registration systems have been an important tool in the legal displacement and criminalisation of indigenous people in settler colonies. More recently, the registration of mortgage titles in the USA, through “MERS”, the corporate Mortgage Electronic Registration System which currently holds the legal title to 60% of American mortgages, has been instrumental in facilitating the trade of sub-prime mortgages, which have disproportionately resulted in the evictions of black families from their homes (Chakravartty and Ferreira da Silva 2012). Drawing on Ruthie Wilson Gilmore (2007), I argue that registration of title systems are racist because they produce patterns of displacement and criminalisation that make particular groups vulnerable to premature death.
This paper explores how law is implicated in the formation of place, and how place in turn can shape law. It is an empirical explication of Latour’s call for researchers to study the global through its local instantiations, and thus to seek to show how: “the world is … brought inside … places and then, after having been transformed there … pumped back out of [their] narrow walls” (Latour 2005: 179, italics in original). In pursuit of this the paper presents a case study focussed around the creation and circulation of a new form of place in the late eighteenth century, the industrial scale cotton mill. The study centres around the interplay of law and material formations at one originating site, Sir Richard Arkwright’s Cromford Mills in Derbyshire. It shows how a diverse range of legal elements ranging across patent law, the Calico Acts and ancient local Derbyshire lead mining laws all helped to shape that place-form, its proliferation across the United Kingdom, and ultimately farther afield. In doing so the paper conceptualises processes of localisation, translocalisation and thing-law by which the abstractions of both place-forms and law elements become activated through their pragmatic local emplacement. Whilst the case study concerns 200 year old place-making machinations, many of the spatio-legal articulations of Arkwright and his opponents have a surprisingly modern feel about them. The paper therefore advocates the benefits of a longitudinal, historical approach to the study of place-making, and in particular, calls for a greater attentiveness in contemporary legal geography to law’s role in business-place formation and its use by site managers.
For legal geographers, it seems to be common sense to say that justice has a spatial context, that there is such a thing as – or a series of relations of – spatial justice. Similarly, for legal geographers it is assumed that the social, the spatial and the legal are co-constituted, none is a background to another: there is constant, processual reflexivity. Taking these two positions as starting points, the paper identifies how courts produce spatial justice, drawing on a case study, the decision by the European Court of Human Rights, Rael v Switzerland (2012). It identifies three key techniques: the use of splices, “space talk” (and its absence) and the use of differing legal-spatial imaginaries. In exploring how these techniques are used, it considers two places or sites: first, the billboard and public street where the poster was displayed and secondly, drawing on the work of Habermas and Arendt, the European public sphere itself.