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date: 04 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

As the linguistic/cultural turn of the last fifty years has begun to ebb, sociolegal and legal-humanist scholarship has seen an accelerating return to materiality. This chapter asks what relationship may be forthcoming between the “new materialisms” and “vibrant matter” of recent years, and the older materialisms—both historical and literary, both Marxist and non-Marxist—that held sway prior to post-structuralism. What impact might such a relationship have on the forms, notably “spatial justice,” that materiality is assuming in contemporary legal studies? To attempt answers, the chapter turns to two figures from more than half a century ago: Gaston Bachelard—once famous, now mostly forgotten; and Walter Benjamin—once largely forgotten, now famous. A prolific and much-admired writer between 1930 and 1960, Bachelard pursued two trajectories of inquiry: a dialectical and materialist and historical (but non-Marxist) philosophy of science; and a poetics of the material imagination based on inquiry into the literary reception and representation of the prime elements—earth, water, fire, and air. Between the late 1920s and 1940, meanwhile, Benjamin developed an idiosyncratic but potent form of historical materialism dedicated to “arousing [the world] from its dream of itself.” The chapter argues that by mobilizing Bachelard and Benjamin for scholarship at the intersection of law and the humanities, old and new materialisms can be brought into a satisfying conjunction that simultaneously offers a poetics for spatial justice and lays a foundation for a materialist legal historiography for the twenty-first century.

Keywords: Gaston Bachelard, Walter Benjamin, materialism, material imagination, history, law, time, spatial justice

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