CFP: Licensing spaces, things and people

Licensing spaces, things and people

RGS-IBG Conference, Edinburgh 3rd – 5th July 2012

Sponsored by the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group

Organisers: James Kneale, UCL, and David Beckingham, University of Cambridge

How do states ensure security without directly intervening in the affairs of individuals? Several decades of discussion have expanded our conception of governmentality, its workings and its consequences, but it may be time to consider the work of a modest, ubiquitous but extraordinarily effective technology in solving this problem. In Law’s Dream of a Common Knowledge (2003) socio-legal theorist Mariana Valverde suggests that one of the common ways in which this dilemma is managed is through the legal technology of the license, and these insights have proved fruitful to Nick Blomley, Phil Hubbard, and other geographers.

Licensing, for Valverde, represents a flexible form of governmentality that works in unexpected ways. It may well be a form of police science, but it often relies upon private individuals like publicans for its effectiveness, “contracting out the governmental work of preventing disorder and monitoring risks to the private sector”. In Britain the licensing of alcohol was administered by amateurs (magistrates) – and not the central or local state – for over 450 years, with pronounced local differences. Licensing is also dependent upon and produces a particular form of ad hoc, non-expert knowledge (“the epistemology of detail”), which does not always grant power but may instead be a burden – barstaff, for example, have a ‘duty to know’ whether a patron is too drunk to be served.

Valverde’s conception of licensing also allows practice and the non-human back into debates about governmentality. Licensing governs and reshapes spaces, temporalities, and activities. We invite papers that explore how governing ‘uses’ in this way works on both people and things, from the everyday to the apparently exceptional – including but not restricted to foodstuffs, weeds, professional associations, advertising boards, pets, alcohol, firearms and drugs.

We welcome papers on any form of licensing which makes a difference to spaces, allowing us to trace these and other issues:

  • The uncertain outcomes of governing through licensing
  • Histories and geographies of licensing (legal and cultural, at a variety of scales)
  • Licensing and expert/non-expert knowledges
  • Licensing and the differences between action, habit and identity (with reference to sexuality, drunkenness, etc)
  • The objects of licensing and the role of objects in licensing space

All titles and abstracts (max 250 words) should be submitted to James Kneale or David Beckingham by Monday the 23rd January 2012 at the latest, as the deadline for completed sessions is much earlier than usual this year.