Geography Legal Geography
Christian Pettersen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0244


“Legal geography” encapsulates a breadth of scholarship. Within legal geography, there is considerable debate as to what the boundaries of law and geography are and should be. Some scholars argue that legal geography is a nascent subdiscipline of human geography. Others argue that more than a discipline, legal geography is an intellectual commitment to a particular kind of multidisciplinary engagement with the law. With such a seemingly divergent set of interests, defining the bounds of legal geography can be challenging. Throughout the literature on legal geography there is a consistent thread: legal geography concerns the co-constitution of law, space, and power. Legal geography is a law-in-society approach, meaning that scholarship in legal geography is concerned with law’s central relationship to social processes; law cannot be understood outside of the spatial and temporal social, political, and economic conditions of its production. In this work, law is defined along three, often overlapping lines: law as process, law as text, and law as practice—each with a focus on law as a mechanism of power in law and (in)justice in society. Existing scholarship has focused on questions of environment; courtroom architecture; human rights; neoliberal globalization; property relations and the right to the city; colonialism and postcolonialism; race, migration, and citizenship; and methodological considerations. It has often centered on the law as a practice of Global North state power. Recent calls by North American legal geographers and existing work by Australian legal geographers has begun to push legal geography into new terrain: spaces outside the Global North. Recent engagement with feminist scholarship has also provided new opportunities to explore the spatially uneven gendered and embodied effects of law. This work, with its international and intersectional approach, provides important direction for the future of legal geography.

General Overviews

The following four books appear repeatedly in legal geographic citations. Blomley 1994 writes one of the most widely cited introductions to law, space, and spatial imaginaries in the law. This book is often credited as one of the formative works in legal geography. Benda-Beckmann, et al. 2009 highlights the continuities between geography and anthropology in law in society inquiry. It is a useful source for understanding what Braverman, et al. 2015 describes as legal geography’s “third field” which is how other disciplines, including anthropology and political science, engage and contribute to legal geography to advance their own disciplinary concerns. Finally, Blomley, et al. 2001 provides a good overview of scholarship covering the range of legal geography’s scales: from city and regional planning; to state power; to international law.

  • Benda-Beckmann, Franz von, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, and Anne M. O. Griffiths, eds. Spatializing Law: An Anthropological Geography of Law in Society. Law, Justice, and Power. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009.

    Argues that space is best understood through the competing values through which it is constituted. Contributions to this volume highlight how different scales of law constitute spaces of economic and political authority, and how “legal rules localize people’s rights and obligations in physical and social space.”

  • Blomley, Nicholas K. Law, Space, and the Geographies of Power. Mappings. New York: Guilford Press, 1994.

    Draws from a breadth of case studies to illustrate the co-constitution of law and space. In this account, law is a manifestation of power. Legal geographers have since taken up this invocative idea to examine the co-constitution of law, space, and power—differentiating legal geography from other forms of legal inquiry, which often neglect to link law to the production of space.

  • Blomley, Nicholas K., David Delaney, and Richard T. Ford, eds. The Legal Geographies Reader: Law, Power, and Space. Oxford, and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

    Provides examples of texts that span legal geographic inquiry—that is: texts that acknowledge how law, space, and society are co-constituted. Texts included discuss public space, local racisms, property and the city, environmental regulation, state formation and inter-global legalities. The preface to the reader argues that law is somewhere and that law helps constitute social relations and social reality.

  • Braverman, Irus, Nicholas K. Blomley, David Delaney, and Alexandre Kedar. The Expanding Spaces of Law: A Timely Legal Geography. Stanford Law Books. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015.

    Presents legal geography as an “interdisciplinary intellectual project.” It traces legal geography through three phases: (1) an initial turn to understand the relationship between law and space, (2) the Critical Legal Studies (CLS) movement, and (3) the creation of legal geography as a “third field,” in which anthropologists, political scientists, historians and others use legal geography to advance their own disciplinary concerns. Contributions are from prominent legal geographic scholars.

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