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Bridging Divides; The Channel Tunnel and English Legal Identity in Europe

Eve Darian-Smith
University of California Press: Berkeley, CA
0520216113 (pb); 0520216105 (hb)
US$19.95 (pb); US$50.00 (hb)

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Front Cover
Darian-Smith provides a rich ethnographic and historical account of English (in particular Kentish) attitudes to the construction of The Channel Tunnel. She treats the Tunnel as a technological apparatus, but also as an icon of political, moral and ideological significance. In particular, Darian-Smith is interested in the popular articulation of the Tunnel as a threat to national identity—a building work that pierces metaphorical as well as literal geographical boundaries. She invites us to read the Tunnel as an icon of 'division' as well as 'connection'; in the technological achievement of bridging the Channel, national and local oppositions can also be drawn out or exaggerated. She suggests that for the people of Kent The Channel Tunnel crystallises the dynamic process of articulating differences and similarities. By appearing to mark a postnational era, in which England (as part of the United Kingdom) is drawn into closer ties with the European Union, it seems to exacerbate local fears of territorial loss. What is at stake for many people, especially those in Kent who campaigned against the Tunnel, is their sense of national distinctiveness.

Darian-Smith goes on to develop her argument through a fascinating account of the intersections of law and landscape in English identity making: for me, the most effective parts of the book. She makes a claim to trace the 'aesthetics of law' in England, in particular the ways in which the juridico-political idea of the nation-state has been historically connected to territory. Darian-Smith points out that the very doctrine of legal precedent, which underpins representations of English law, relies on an image of 'olde England', which in turn relies on a heavily mythologized sense of a rural English landscape (embodied in the notion of Kent as the 'garden of England'), and a natural island independence. The building of The Channel Tunnel is in this sense a challenge to the notion of the 'naturalness' of English law and the permanence of landscaped boundaries. Darian-Smith suggests that the Tunnel has the symbolic power to disconnect law and landscape in the English imagination, to pull apart and thus reveal the country's lack of spatial continuity and legal sovereignty. As a consequence, alternative legal landscapes may be articulated.

I would perhaps have liked a more thorough investigation of these intersections between law, landscape and identity. In particular, I felt the book suffered from a lack of ethnographic precision. If these legal landscapes are lived topographies, then whose England do they animate? Darian-Smith does not really provide us with enough information about the subjects she describes or the ways in which their very specific sense of place informs their everyday lives. What are the qualities of this landscape and how do people dwell or pass through it? Also, I would have liked to see a more thorough investigation of competing local landscapes and senses of place. If we are to take the intersection between law and landscape seriously (which I would like to do), then we need to know a lot more about how that relationship is articulated. How is 'place' animated by the imagination taken from law? How is 'law' animated by the imagination taken from place? And what is 'law' to the people in Kent she worked with? These questions, I believe, are important, especially when the author makes a claim to providing ethnography. However, I would not like these points to cloud my general enthusiasm for the book, which I think is a fine and timely piece of scholarship.

Adam Reed
University of Surrey

Copyright Sociological Research Online,