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The law-power-ideology helix: Critical geographies of Indigenous-led resistance to industry

Authors: Leah Horowitz*, Nelson Institute
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Legal Geography
Keywords: critical geography, ideologies, indigeneity, law, power, grassroots resistance to industry
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper brings several bodies of theory into conversation with critical geography to shed light on the co-constitution of law and space within Indigenous-led struggles to protect significant places from industry’s impacts. First, I discuss critical approaches to law that show how legal texts and processes serve to reinforce elite positionalities, including racially-based hierarchies and privilege. I support those theories with examples of legal decisions that, predictably, reinforce corporate power at the expense of Indigenous peoples. Then, the narrative pivots to provide examples of Indigenous place-based rights triumphing over corporations. This begs the question of why, and under what conditions, these wins occur. I posit that, to address this question, we first need a more fine-grained analysis of power than prior approaches provide. Enumerating various forms of power, I hone in on the power of ideologies, arguing that, in shaping social norms of moral behavior, ideologies inform legal decisions and processes in often-unrecognized but highly significant ways. Ultimately, I posit a “helical” relationship between law, ideologies, and power, which co-produce one another, mediated by individual agency. Individual decision-makers’ agency, I argue, exists in a dialectical relationship with socio-legal structures, reflecting, and also helping shape, societal power relations and hegemonic ideologies. I conclude by proposing a research agenda that applies the law-power-ideology helix framework to deepen our understandings of whether, when, and where Indigenous-led efforts can invoke the power of law toward the protection of natural and cultural spaces.

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