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A pub, a field and some signs – a case study on the pragmatics of proprietorship and legal cognition.

By Luke Bennett


This paper uses a case study on the management of the grounds of a city-fringe pub to explore land and premises owners’ perception of, and responses to, the legal requirements and risks of public access to their property. The paper examines how an approximate lay notion of occupiers’ liability is acquired and used from an actor’s ‘internal point of view’ (Hart 1994).\ud The study set out to empirically explore the suggestion (e.g. Jones 1984; Bennett & Crowe 2008) that landowners’ expressions of concern about potential occupiers’ liability for visitor injuries may function as a polite and acceptable proxy for a more visceral (and less publically expressible) sense of proprietorship but actually found something more prosaic. In the case study the ‘liability risk’ theme was invoked through copious cautionary signage by a premises manager who showed little overt anxiety about liability or safety and no strong proprietorial orientation towards his land. \ud \ud To make sense of this conundrum the paper develops a theoretically informed interpretation of the case study which draws upon Bourdieu’s notion of the guiding hand of ‘habitus’ (2005), Mutch’s (2000, 2001 and 2003) and Pratten’s (2007 a, b and c) work on the constancies and changes within UK pub management, Berger & Luckmann’s (1971) concept of the ‘sedimentation’ of knowledge, Delaney’s (2010) call for holistic, multi-disciplinary, ‘nomospheric investigations’ when studying spatio-legal behaviour, Sack’s (1986) notion of the ‘space clearing’ function of territoriality and Altman’s (1975) highlighting of the importance of express normative declarations for ambiguous ‘secondary territories’ that are neither wholly public nor private. \ud \ud Through this synthesis insight is given into how a form of thinking and acting about law, liability and proprietorship can become embedded and replicated without needing at any stage a consciously developed self-understanding of that action. The paper considers the implications of this for land and premises management and the study of legal cognition within lay professional communities.\ud \ud Keywords: Habitus - Occupiers Liability – Land Management – Legal Cognition – Public House

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