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Reviewed by:
  • Rights of Passage: Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public Flow
  • Dave Cowan
Nicholas Blomley Rights of Passage: Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public Flow. Abingdon, UK: Routledge-Glasshouse, 2011, 134 p.

This is a brilliant book, the more so because the author is able to outline and develop the thesis, including its intellectual inheritance, concisely. It is also wonderfully modest both in aim and outlook, although it should be acknowledged that the book is potentially of wider importance, since it offers a material way of working with the emerging literature on legal technicality, including the significance of police, as a socio-legal resource. That work, which forms part of the intellectual inheritance of Rights of Passage, raises tremendous possibilities but also potential pitfalls (such as a retreat to doctrinalism), which Nicholas Blomley neatly avoids here. In addition, that work is asking us, as socio-legal scholars, to treat human and non-human objects equally—Emilie Cloatre uses the helpful descriptor "socio-legal objects"—and Blomley demonstrates the equal measure given to socio-legal objects (humans, benches, bins, newspaper boxes, etc.) by his research participants. 1

The book's thesis, in sum, is that there is a collision of understandings about use of the sidewalk across a range of expert, technical, and political logics—whether administrative, judicial, or political—although those logics have different inputs. In these logics, pedestrianism, which is the focus of Blomley's book, is the unencumbered ability to move from point A to point B; it is about flow and circulation—as Blomley puts it, "the successful sidewalk is one that facilitates pedestrian flow and circulation" (p. 4). This output is neutral as to the nature and type of obstruction. That the book has left me feeling uncertain about how best to resist these logics and outputs is, I think, one of the author's aims (see, in particular, the conclusion), a point to which I return at the end of this review.

Blomley does not seek to produce a further account of what he labels "civic humanism," the logics of which are discussed in chapter 2 and which is characterized as having "an emphasis upon the social and political effects of the sidewalk, understood in relation to the human subject" (p. 17). Blomley's point is that pedestrianism is overlooked or not taken seriously by academics and activists fromthose angles: to take pedestrianism seriously implies a differentway of engaging with and resisting it. The book is at its strongest in the two chapters [End Page 153] about administrative pedestrianism—the ways in which flow and circulation have become neutral, common-sense knowledges of street engineers, to the extent that Blomley's administrator-engineer research participants struggle to accommodate matters outside those knowledges; in chapter 5, in particular, Blomley reinserts the history of the production of these knowledges into our appreciation of the subject, and of the transformation of chaotic use into orderly use as a result of emergent urban governance techniques.

It may be that one could quibblewith Blomley's description of judicial pedestrianism, dealt with in chapters 6 and 7, when considering the question frommy own jurisdiction (the UK). Here he is perhaps too reductive in characterizing (UK) judicial logics of pedestrianism as based on the right to pass and re-pass, which one takes from the law on easements. That logic, while clearly present, is nevertheless susceptible to a reasonableness challenge based on a free-speech defence (as illustrated in Brian Haw's predominantly solo anti-Iraq war protest in Parliament Square, London). In other words, there are different currents in operation (as subsequently dealt with in Mr Haw's further engagement, this time with the peace demonstrators in the square). But this is not Blomley's focal point, and, in any event, the pass/re-pass logic is strong in these cases.

As I have indicated, Blomley finishes his book with a series of important observations, arguing that other characterizations, such as RandallAmster's discussion of the sit/lie ordinance in Tempe, Arizona, that fail to see through the lens of pedestrianism miss important dynamics about publicness and the public interest. Blomley's argument is that pedestrianism appeals because of its...


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pp. 153-155
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