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CSSN Scholar Publications

Constructing Environmental Compliance: Law, Science, and Endangered Species Conservation in California’s Delta

May 18, 2022

From a larger project that focuses on the Delta Smelt, CSSN Scholar Caleb Scoville conducts a study highlighting the importance of scientists in shaping environmental law and the construction of legal compliance.

This study extends theories of the construction of legal compliance by conceptualizing scientists as compliance professionals in relation to environmental law. The author argues that visions of nature immanent in scientific and legal fields can serve as the basis for various environmental compliance relations. The approach is developed via a historical and ethnographic case study of the delta smelt, a controversial and intensely studied endangered species. Three compliance relations became dominant at distinct junctures in the case. First is aligned visions, a relation of coordination in a constructed space of compatibility. Second is judicial subordination, a relation of domination, with scientists acting as legal underlaborers. Third is contested visions, a relation of conflict, in which scientists agonistically push against the limits of the law. The author theorizes their succession as a compliance process of boundary object construction and breakdown. The analysis aims to bring environmental law squarely within the jurisdiction of law and society.

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