Saturday, September 09, 2006

Defining a canon of rural law

Cell phone towersThe heavyweight law blog, Prawfsblawg, is undertaking a grand project to define legal canons in a wide range of areas. I've asked my fellow contributors to the Jurisydnamics Network to join me in responding to the Prawfsblawg challenge by defining the canon in areas of interest to us, including agricultural law.

As we embark on this project, though, I wonder whether we might profitably reconsider how we ask the question. In the words of Suzanne Langer, one of the twentieth century's great philosophers on learning, how we pose a question often predisposes its answer. Perhaps it is time to think of a broader canon of rural law rather than strictly agricultural law.

CEDRI am taking a cue from the Francophone world. There the term droit rural includes but is not coextensive with agricultural law. The leading agricultural law journal is named La Revue de Droit Rural, and the European Council for Agricultural Law is better known by its French acronymn, CEDR: Comité Européen de Droit Rural.

Within American law, rural law might include the law of public lands, the battery of laws concerning subsidies for rural development (such as reclamation, rural electrification, and rural telephony), certain bodies of natural resources law, and perhaps even Indian law. Rural communities face unique legal challenges that are worthy of focused study and, most important for current purposes, are not adequately addressed within an industry-specific framework directed at an ever diminishing share of rural revenues, rural jobs, and rural culture.

WindmillThe subject of rural law and its canon so defined might be supple enough, for instance, to embrace the following abstract:
The United States lags behind many other countries in wireless telephony despite its wealth and relatively high rural population. The answer to this conundrum may lie in the United States' commitment to cooperative federalism in the administration of subsidies for rural telephone service. ... Federal mechanisms for subsidizing rural telephony demonstrate the irreconcilable conflict between decentralization and deregulation. Insofar as state regulators are not prepared to complete the transition from traditional public utility regulation, they deserve no deference. Indeed, this article argues that there should be no deference whatsoever to interpretations of law and other exercises of discretion undertaken by state regulators charged with implementing federal telecommunications law.
This, of course, is a paper of mine -- namely, Subsidized Rural Telephony and the Public Interest -- but I feel no shame in suggesting that it addresses a question affecting rural life and public policy. Those objectives, of course, have always lain at the heart of agricultural law. Contemporary law has simply added to the list of tools, and targets, as rural life undergoes ever greater upheaval.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The uneasy connection between agriculture and rural america is worth noting and may be a method of defining canons. But what makes an area of law canonical? Does it boil down to the volume of information? Thus, if it is too big it can't be called a canon (see Morrison's comments on constitutional law). But if there is not enough, we probably wouldn't recognize it as a canonical subject. So I wonder if agricultural law is too big, and if it is, is rural law too small.

But the size thing doesn't work very well as a canonical indicator. Maybe the better question is whether there is a chunk of information that is unique to the subject. That is, a chunk of information that does not fit within the other canons. If that is a piece of the puzzle, then I think both agriculture and rural life fit the bill. Both have, to some extent, unique policy interest and legal regimes set up to further those interests.

Finally, rural america has been to some extent the step-child of agricultural policymaking. Some have posited that rural development efforts eroded agrarianism in the early part of the 20th century, bringing into the mix a range of issues that producers would have rather left for other policymaking efforts. But it has been wrapped into such things as the Farm Bill. And, even today, we find that the interests of production agriculture and the rest of rural america are not perfectly aligned. See, for example, today's post at CFRA: Is rural america still elbowing its way in to agricultural policy? Does the ag sector need rural america as an ally?

9/13/2006 9:08 AM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

Greetings Anonymous,

You know, someone who leaves commentary this cogent and this elegant needs to sign her or his real name. At the very least, write me e-mail so that we can continue this discussion.

Jim Chen

9/13/2006 6:07 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home