Workshop: Nomos, Postcoloniality and Spatial Justice (I), London

Nomos, Postcoloniality and Spatial Justice (I) – Legacies of the Nomos of Apartheid

A workshop funded by the British Academy Newton Advanced Fellowship Scheme

The Workshop

Long before the so-called ‘spatial turn’ in the Humanities, Carl Schmitt, in The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, famously traces the origins of the Greek word for law, nomos, to nemein and its double semantic grammar of (land) ‘distribution’ and ‘pasture’, in order to retrieve the word’s ‘original spatial character’ (75) and the fundamental ‘unity of space and law, order and orientation’ (42). Noms designates in this context ‘the spatial structure of a concrete order and orientation’ (69) and as such both ‘the immediate form in which the political and social order of a people becomes spatially visible’ (70) and the ‘inner measure of an original, constitutive act of spatial ordering’ (78; my emphasis). This Ur-Act at the basis of all nomos is land-appropriation or Landnahme: a ‘primeval law-founding act’ (45) that creates ‘the primary legal title that underlies all subsequent law’ (46), all subsequent divisions and decisions, thus rooting law to the land and binding a given order (Ordnung) to its localisation (Ortung).

This account of nomos, nomos as spatial order grounded in land-appropriation, provides the basis in The Nomos of the Earth not only for a concrete theory of law but also for a historical account of modern international law – the first ‘nomos of the earth in the true sense’ (51). For although, according to Schmitt, ‘[t]here had always been some kind of nomos of the earth’ (351), it was only after the European appropriations of land and sea with the discovery of the New World in the fifteenth and sixteenth century that a spatial ordering of the world as a whole took place.

Our interest in nomos here is not just about its emphasis on space, however. Schmitt’s recovery of nomos against law’s forgetfulness of its spatiality does not merely involve re-membering and restoring law’s long-lost ‘spatial’ dimension alongside its established normative one.

Insofar as nomos is ‘the full immediacy of legal power unmediated by laws’ that is made spatially visible through the ‘public signs’ used to mark out ‘the forms of ownership and social proximity, … of power and domination’ (42) in a given order, nomos has an important critical role to play in exploring the ubiquity of injustice in a post-colonial context: the demarcations, inequalities and exclusions that mark the post-colonial space, both in the metropolis and in the former colonies.

Post-Apartheid South Africa is a case in point. More than twenty years after the institutional closure of the apartheid order and the enactment of a transformative constitution, concrete spatial visibilities, orientations and relations remain largely untransformed and worryingly similar to their former apartheid instantiations. In other words, there is a troubling mismatch between the transformative language and aspirations of post-apartheid law and the concrete spatial configurations in which that language and those aspirations are in force. A narrow, institutional account of law that has been characteristic not only of transformative constitutionalism but also of South African legal scholarship in general has left the tension between law’s normativity and law’s spatial, territorial inscription thoroughly unexamined.

In a broader context, whereas existing literature has examined space, spatial justice and different aspects of post-colonial law, there is still very little at the moment on the nexus between post-coloniality and spatial justice. Our focus on the legacies of the nomos of apartheid is therefore a starting point in order to begin a conversation about and an examination of different nomoi of the post-colony and what spatial justice entails in specific post-colonial contexts.


Brenna Bandar (School of Law, SOAS)

Jaco Barnard-Naudé (Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town)

Julia Chryssostalis (School of Law, University of Westminster)

Sarah Keenan (School of Law, Birkbeck College)

Andreas Philippopoulos –Mihalopoulos (School of Law, University of Westminster)

Jacqueline Rose (Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities)

When and Where

Wed 5 July 2017 – 10:00 – 18:00 BST

Room 357, 309 Regent Street, University of Westminster


Contact and Registration

To register please follow this link.

The event is free but places are limited.

Contact: Julia Chryssostalis at