Have you ever considered the concept of place?

Words by Dr Jenny Kanellopoulou
From Manchester Law School, Manchester Met Uni

Ahead of our event Invisible rule of law we asked Dr Jenny Kanellopoulou, Senior Lecturer in Law, Manchester Law School, Manchester Metropolitan University to contribute to a conversation on the invisible place of law. 

Have you ever considered the concept of place? The place you live in? The place you walk through on your daily commute or perhaps the place you and others belong or should belong to? Surely, place is here, there, and everywhere, and everything is a place either physically or metaphorically. Place is a given. You can move from one place to the next, but you will always be in place, even when you’re out of place – near or far. But does place or rather, the awareness of place matter? Perhaps it does when we are trying to shelter from the rain, seek a safe place when we sense danger, when we consider a place to live, a place to eat, or a place to leave our stuff on a night out. By stealth, by association, or by necessity, place always matters.

To some extent, the above examples are directly or indirectly associated with the notion of safety in place, and this is not a coincidence. As we extend ourselves to our surroundings, we create the place where we (physically) exist, but we also project the kind of place we wish to occupy. It is therefore both a wish and a reality.

As we observe the place around us, and imagine the ideal place for us to be, we can’t help but describe the invisible set of rules (regulations, norms, laws) that make this place a reality. Be it real or imaginary, our ideal or needed place is safe/ secure, aesthetically pleasing/ beautiful, inclusive, friendly, approachable, or remote. And that place is by design a result of soft or hard rules that define what is permissible or not. What is possible or impossible. We call this set of rules “laws”. These laws define and describe place and enable us to move freely (or not), safely (or not), experience, and enjoy what we see, hear, and feel. We might call these laws of nature or laws of society. They can be unbreakable, bendable, or even malleable. They can be a result of deliberation or stem from a single source of authority.

Laws of nature stop us from passing through a concrete wall or from flying when we take a leap; they make seasons change affecting how we dress, socialise, and choose method of transportation. But laws of nature aside, it is the laws of society, and we might have more conscious connections with. And these laws tend to vary in severity of repercussions, compliance and even visibility. Taking the example of our high street, a place of work, enjoyment, commerce, and socialisation, we can observe several sets of rules (or laws) that shape our behaviour and afford the place its character as friendly, buzzing, safe, and inclusive. If we stand in the way of others as they walk, or move too fast or too slowly, we can say that our own bodies regulate the pace of the street and make it easier or more difficult for others to move. In this sense, it is our behaviour or our bodies that regulate the life on the high street.

When COVID-19 measures were prevalent, this was perhaps easier to discern. We were told to keep our distance, leave ample space, and not stand in the interior of a shop for longer than necessary. Complying with this sets of rules resulted in the experience of a safe and COVID-free place. The laws and regulations were obvious, visible, and closely followed: they regulated our movement and, by extension, our place. They engulfed life on our high streets, resulting in an environment that did not resemble life as it used to be.

Even though COVID-19 measures are an evident example of the impact laws (rules and regulations) have on the enjoyment of place, it is worth considering that they are not the only ones: they were simply more pronounced. A simple walk down the high street, measures lifted aside, will reveal a myriad of norms and regulations that we might not pay attention to in our daily life: competition laws will prescribe what type of business we encounter on our walk, advertising standards and intellectual property result in billboards, shop signs, and posters, employment and immigration laws shape the kind of people we encounter on the street (workers, people or parental leave strolling with babies, immigrants or refugees), and data protection laws dictate if surveillance cameras can be placed and where. These are of course only a few examples of the interwoven set of society-made laws that have a direct result on the environment or the place that we experience daily. Appreciating that this is the case, can then make us reconsider what kind of place we want, and what laws we can change to bring it to life… this is the invisible life of law in the city.

Leeds is now a bustling city
Leeds in the first lockdown

Words by Dr Jenny Kanellopoulou
From Manchester Law School, Manchester Met Uni