AuthorEisenberg, Ann M.

Introduction 243 I. Law and Rurality Methodologies 244 II. Legal Geography Methodologies 250 III. Common Ground to Assess Urban-Rural Interconnectedness? 252 INTRODUCTION

The law and rurality subfield of legal scholarship has gained substantial momentum over the past two decades. (1) Law and rurality scholars investigate life and law outside of cities, exploring relationships among people, place, space, law, and justice in more remote and population-sparse locales.

Law and rurality shares notable overlapping emphases with the field of legal geography, in which scholarship "takes the interconnections between law and spatiality, and especially their reciprocal construction, as core objects of inquiry." (2) Despite this overlap, with some notable exceptions, law and rurality has largely evolved in a separate lane from legal geography. (3)

This disconnect perhaps stems in part from legal geography's broader reach across disciplines and places, contrasted with law and rurality's more recent genesis within U.S. legal academia. (4) In any event, the opportunity for mutual cross-pollination and amplification seems apparent. Law and rurality scholarship entails some legal geography analysis, and some legal geography implicates aspects of law and rurality.

This Essay compares these two methodologies and asks whether there is value to, and room for, the two fields of inquiry to pursue more robust conversation with each other. While giving each field short shrift by virtue of this Essay's brevity, this discussion contemplates that each has something to offer the other. Both could aim to cast more light on the critical phenomena of urban-rural interconnectedness and interdependence, which are essential aspects of modern crises such as climate change and political instability. (5) Scholars of law and rurality might benefit from using legal geography tools to delve more deeply into questions surrounding law, rurality, and interconnectedness. Meanwhile, to the extent legal geography has been under-inclusive of rural concerns, a turn toward inclusivity could enrich legal geography, further confirm its ongoing importance, and clarify that those interested in law and rurality do not need to seek community elsewhere. It is not necessarily clear, however, that the subdisciplines' respective assumptions are organically aligned.


    By any account, the pioneering work of law professor Lisa Pruitt laid the foundation for the modern law and rurality movement. (6) Today, law and rurality scholarship exhibits breadth and depth, interacting with diverse areas of law among a growing group of scholars. Investigations into law and rurality intersect with literatures on access to justice; (7) legal history; (8) criminal law; (9) criminology; (10) property law; (11) Indian and tribal law; (12) environmental law; (13) health law; (14) education law; (15) local government and community economic development law; (16) infrastructure and utilities law; (17) poverty law; (18) agricultural law; (19) feminist legal theory; (20) civil rights; (21) immigration law; (22) constitutional law; (23) bankruptcy law; (24) courts, (25) and other areas.

    While the breadth of law and rurality's overlap might make generalizations seem difficult, some common themes tend to emerge in law and rurality analyses. I propose that the most common among these include the methodological approaches of (1) interrogating perceived and actual rural difference; (2) articulating rural worthiness and significance; and (3) delineating tailored rural interventions.

    As to the first of these methodological components, several common concerns arise under the umbrella of interrogating perceived and actual rural difference. Law and rurality scholars frequently critique the sociological tropes of the rural idyll and the rural dystopia, both of which are often embedded in the urbanormative assumptions made by laws, institutions, and cultural norms of a country where more than eighty percent of the population lives in cities. (26)

    The rural idyll and the rural dystopia reflect stereotypes at the extreme ends of a spectrum. The former draws on a "largely nostalgic and romantic image of rural living along with the myth of country living and family life as simple, pure, and wholesome; slower paced; free from pressures and tensions; and surrounded by pastoral beauty and serenity." (27) The latter portrays rural localities as the opposite--"backwards and backwoods" white trash, for instance, a depiction that simultaneously erases rural communities of color and designates the rural as deficient and deviant. (28)

    In either case, policymakers' misguided sense of rural life can influence outcomes. Law and rurality scholarship acknowledges that rural regions are often different and have unique needs. However, scholars propose that those unique needs should be met through listening, study, and empirically informed, equitable measures as opposed to measures based on nostalgic or biased stereotypes. (29) Rural stereotypes or otherwise misinformed perceptions of rural conditions--or even the failure to consider rural conditions altogether--can lead to the neglect of rural needs or the imposition of poorly suited laws and policies on rural regions. (30)

    The second factor I posit as a component of law and rurality methodology --articulating rural worthiness and significance--reveals that law and rurality scholarship often shares a particular orientation of perspective. Specifically, law and rurality scholarship tends to accept an assumption of rurality as an axis of disadvantage. (31) Scholars simultaneously acknowledge the importance of intersectional perspectives to account for inequality within rural regions, including interactions among place, space, class, race, gender, and other identities. (32) The premise of rural disadvantage is often informed by scholars' firsthand experiences living, working, or collecting data in various forms in struggling rural regions or as members of marginalized rural populations, (33) experiences which may have motivated scholars to engage in law and rurality scholarship in the first place.

    The analytical assumption of rural disadvantage--one that is well-informed by far-reaching documentation of varied hardships faced by rural populations today (34) --and associated efforts to articulate rural worthiness arguably make law and rurality an outgrowth of critical methodologies. (35) Critical legal methodologies are characterized by "not taking [law] at face value," bringing social sciences and real-world understanding to bear to critique law, and exposing law's structural biases as catalysts in reproducing social inequality. (36) Law and rurality scholars also draw on related fields that engage with law in rural communities, such as rural sociology, which also frequently focuses on interdisciplinary analyses of rural disadvantage.

    The assumption of...

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