Thursday, March 31, 2016

Legal History Blog on Cows, Cars Criminals at Princeton: Space Along the Rural-Urban Continuum (Part I)

I gave the keynote address last Friday at the Princeton University American Studies Conference, Life and Law in Rural America:  Cows, Cars and Criminals.  The title of my talk was "Why Rural?  (or, On Being a Ruralist)."

One of the organizers of the conference was Emily Prifogle, a PhD student in history at Princeton, and a UC Berkeley law graduate.  Several other presenters are also working on their PhDs in history, at the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Pennsylvania.  They are writing installments over at the Legal History blog on the various panels.  The first is by Emily Prifogle, and her concluding paragraph from that post about the Rural-Urban Continuum is here:
The most important comment Devienne [the commentator/discussant for the panel] made, in my opinion, was her inquiry whether any of these contributions or claims are inherent or unique to studies of rurality. Indeed, she noted, as an urban historian, much of this seems akin to studying places like New York or Los Angeles. For me, this might be a key for future studies of legal ruralism. Historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and other researchers focusing on rural places and people are not just studying dying parts of the country. Research on small places, I believe, is important in its own right, but it also contributes to what we know about urban communities and mainstream culture. Like other studies of place, studies of small and rural communities make use of many of the same methodologies as urban and legal historians. Importantly, what they add, however, is a reminder that the law does not operate equally and in the same way everywhere. Space and place matters, and can complicate how intersections of race, gender, class, and disability affect individuals and communities. By focusing on rural communities, “ruralists” do much more than contribute to a growing body of literature on rural places, they also illuminate how scholarship on everything from the administrative state to capitalism operates differently when viewed from new locations.
It's an important observation and one that I made in my keynote, too:  one reason to study the rural is what it reveals about the (implicit) urban norm--the center, if you will.

1 comment:

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