Practices of Law and the Environment As a Common Good

Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Location: Arcade Courtyard (Main Building)
Aline PEREIRA, ZEF - Zentrum fur Entwicklungsforschung, University of Bonn, Germany
Decades have passed since environmental protection became a central discussion around the world. Acknowledging the challenges posed by ecologic crises raised society’s awareness to environmental issues and to our common responsibilities, as the Sustainable Development Goals and the emergence of environmental law as an autonomous field illustrate. However, the attempts to translate environmental protection into legal frameworks have not yet been successful. From legal and other experts working with state environmental authorities to social movements, the ineffectiveness of legal instruments to safeguard nature is broadly known. In order to reflect about the concrete limits and possibilities of law towards the environment (and the actual possibility of environmental justice) we need to step back from the field of law and watch it with more critical lenses, looking to its borders with the political, economic and social fields. In an attempt to bring some elements to this discussion, I analyze how different actors use the law during the environmental licensing process of a big mining project in Brazil. I have conducted participant observation of public meetings and in-depth interviews with representatives of State Environmental Authorities, Companies, grassroots resistance and prosecutors (among others). In this paper I analyze the structure where this interplay happens, not only as predicted in the corresponding legislation, but also as enacted in practice, embedded in its real-life context of hegemonic discourses, values and attitudes regarding the environment, local communities’ rights and development. Preliminary results dialogue with Capella’s (2013) analysis of the pitfalls of theorizing law from the perspective of rights, within national states, without closer attention to the duties that form their content. Studying this case calls for new methodological insights to analyze the role of law in compelling contemporary issues, which demand transdisciplinary abilities to understand how other fields (and sciences) interact with the field of law.