A survey and interviews with academic geographers in the UK reveal how geographical research and expertise is being used to shape law and legal proceedings.
Since the 1980s, legal geographic research has examined the connections that exist between law and space. The field reveals how law – from international law, state-sanctioned law, to customary law – variously shapes the relationships between people and places. Legal geographers are interested not just in the ‘doing’ of law by qualified legal practitioners but are now also paying attention to what role geographers and geographical knowledge play in both court and non-court spaces.
Through a survey and follow-up interviews with academic geographers in the UK between 2018 and 2022, this report reveals the often-hidden work that geographers are doing in the legal realm. It documents, for the first time, the experiences of these geographers as they plan, pursue, and evidence their impact in and on legal settings. To highlight the breadth of ongoing geographical work with a legal dimension the report also includes analysis of Impact Case Studies (ICS) submitted to the UK’s 2014 and 2021 Research Excellence Frameworks (REF).
The report summarises the team's findings, illustrating the opportunities and challenges of undertaking legal impact work, and its potential outcomes in legal, professional and personal terms. Across the report seven geographers are profiled, whose work has directly impacted legal processes. The data indicates that a wide range of geographers from across the discipline engage in work that has legal impact. Of the 34 Impact Case Studies in REF2021 submitted to the ‘Geography and Environmental Studies’ panel that mention ‘legal’ impact there is a clustering around two areas: (1) environmental research, including the monitoring of, and improvements to, marine, waste, climate change and ozone protections, and (2) social justice and human rights research, covering issues and advancing action on modern slavery, precarious migration and employment, homelessness, displacement and land rights, and domestic violence.
Interviewees work in fields including geopolitics, social geography, transport studies, feminist geography, indigenous geographies, health geography, development geography, political geography, climate science and area studies. They draw on quantitative and qualitative data and often work in close collaboration with communities and/or individual plaintiffs. Geographers from all career stages – postdoctoral researchers to mid-career and established academics – engage in this work.
"Nobody else knows that I do this work. It’s not something I advertise; it’s not something people at the university know.”
A key goal of the report is to make visible these endeavours, promote the importance of geography to public audiences, and to learn from geographers’ experiences to provide better support and training for geographers in the future.
Read the full report
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY NC 4.0), which permits use, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, provided the original work is cited and it is for non-commercial purposes. Please contact us for other uses.
Brickell, K., Jeffrey, A., and McConnell, F. (2022) Geographers and legal impact: Scoping the field. London, UK: Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). https://doi.org/10.55203/DMZK3242
Featured image: Domestic violence law training, Cambodia, courtesy of Katherine Brickell
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