Institutional Illegality and Disobedience: Local Government Narratives
Work data:ISSN: 0143-6503
Type of work: Article (academic)
Categories:Policy & Regulation | Politics and Political Science
This paper begins by considering disobedience, non-compliance and illegality within three different local government scenarios I term narratives. The second section focuses specifically on the strategic deployment of illegality discourse by municipal forces, across the spectrum, to promote their own interests and agendas. Finally, I explore the organizational, political, and legal effects of intentional disobedience. My objectives in this paper are three-fold. First, I challenge the notion that illegality is epiphenomenal—a parasitic effect of legal change. Not only does illegality generate its own effects in terms of practice and discursive rhetoric, but, as well, its terrain is always constituted in the production of legality. Thus the formation and existence of illegality is as central to law's authority and efficacy as compliance.
Second, I contest the notion that the boundary between legality and illegality is closed, permanent or predetermined. This may not be a controversial idea for legal academics. However, the assumption of closure—that law has true, discoverable meanings—characterizes the attitudes of many local government actors, despite their own engagement in law-games. Whether a given activity becomes successfully refigured as illegal is not predetermined; it depends on the particular balance of social forces at a given juncture. Moreover, since such a balance is often temporary, dominant narratives of illegality can always be rewritten as heroic, lawful, and prescient.
My third objective in this paper is to contest the depiction of unlawful municipal activity as the exclusive preserve of the 'hard' or 'ultra'-left. Instead I argue discourses of illegality as well as disobedient practices pervade municipal life. Thus, I explore how different local government actors—including rightwing politicians and council officers—draw discursively on illegality and engage in non-compliance.