Geography and Planning Seminar

Place-speaking: Attending to the relational, material and governance messages of Silent Spring

Date: Wed 22nd Aug 2018 1:00pm-2:00pm

Location: C02 Lecture Theatre, Earth Sciences Building
Contact: Dr James McGregor 6773 2921

Presenter: Associate Professor Robyn Bartel


The growing recognition of place agency, particularly in relational-material conceptualisations, presents a challenge and an opportunity for legal geographic scholarship. Place is often invisibilised and abstracted by formal rules and institutions, but place shapes (and is shaped by) the law, and co-produces informal lore, norms and cultural practices that interact with formal law and influence governance. Such place-work is particularly important for environmental law, for which place is or should be central, and is well overdue for scholarly interrogation. The focus of this paper is Silent Spring, often credited as having launched the modern environmental movement.

The lens of legal geography is deployed to illustrate the significance of Rachel Carson’s foregrounding of place and non-human agency, validation of lay knowledges and alternative approaches in both science and policy. Carson’s work demonstrates remarkable prescience in heralding relational ontologies, the relevance of materiality, and the value of collaborative governance.

There is a challenge here for environmental law to recognise and embrace the many voices of place at multiple scales, and the role of place in generating its own legal order – a legal pluralism hitherto largely ignored. An opportunity exists to appreciate place law more fully, and deploy this recognition to address the environmental, regulatory and institutional problems of our time, including those that define the Anthropocene.

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