More-than-human promise and legal materiality

Ince Keller, I., & Yip, M.

More-than-human promise and legal materiality


Legal materialities
Osgoode GLSA Graduate Student Conference 2020-2021
Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Toronto, Canada (Online)

There are two analytical directions of promise. While legal scholars tend to understand promise as a human behaviour which is central to legal practices and political life, urban studies and human geography explore the agency of nonhumans (for example, land titles, master plans, inhabitants relocation plans, and infrastructures) in it. To preliminarily explore the legal geography of promise, we link them up through legal materiality. The advocates of the approach of legal materiality suggest that legal materiality is performed through the concrete effects of interpreting the abstract legal categories of things and matters. Following this approach, we examine the concrete composition of promises by investigating the relational, symmetrical network of humans and non-humans in legal practices. Drawing from our case studies of urban planning controversies that have effects on triggering territorial resistance, we supplement this theoretical exploration by revealing how actants (specifically human practices, things and space) targeted by the law are enrolled into the work of promises. Promising is performative because making promissory utterances in the present creates expectations and obligations about spatial transformation for the future. Although, on the surface, the promises are made between governments and citizens through the law, their making, keeping, success and failure are complicated by the material world.