Book Title: Local Space, Global Life: The Everyday Operation of International Law and Development.
Author: Luis Eslava
Publisher: Cambridge University Press, 2015
Reviewed by: Giancarlo Fiorella, 2016 Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto
In Local Space, Global Life, Luis Eslava outlines how international law and development understandings have shifted their operational stage from the nation state to the local jurisdiction. Eslava undertakes this task by examining how the city of Bogota, Colombia has handled the issue of illegal neighbourhoods through a series of administrative and development tools that engage directly with global normative institutions and rationales that have historically been the domain of the nation. This new relationship between international law and development and the city entails not only “material transformations” (p. 11) in the way that cities operate, but also a change in the subjectivity of the residents of these spaces. Eslava argues that this change involves the construction of residents who possess “new kinds of globally attuned values” (p. 50), mirroring the re-defining of their neighbourhoods from illegal spaces to “well-ordered and sustainable” members of the city body (p. 51). By grounding its observations on Bogota’s quest to absorb illegal neighbourhoods, Local Space, Global Life proves itself to be an insightful, well-researched book that does an excellent job at identifying complex changes in the field of law and development.
Eslava begins his work by providing an overview of how the city of Bogota came to demonstrate “the relationship between the international and the local” (p. 61) when it comes to development. In Chapter 2, Eslava highlights how law and development normative understandings at the international level have shifted to municipal jurisdictions from what has traditionally been its main partner in development: the nation state. As an example of international engagement with local administration, Eslava points out that the city of Bogota claims to form “pacts and alliances” with other governmental entities (p. 63). He argues that the reason for development’s shift away from the nation state and towards the local is multi-faceted, and includes the Third World nation state’s inability to deal with issues affecting municipal jurisdictions, and neoliberalism’s desire to gain easier access to the “administrative landscape” of the Third World (p. 68). Eslava handles this assessment carefully, with the end result being a convincing and well-rounded argument for how “authority and responsibility have been assigned to local administrations in the Global South in recent decades” (p. 68), ending the exclusivity of the development-nation state relationship.
In Chapter 3, Eslava provides the reader with a thorough history of development as a “geopolitical grammar for the world” since its inception during the Truman administration, most famously exemplified by the Marshall Plan (p. 98). At the time, this new “development logic” (p. 102) envisioned the highly centralized nation state as its only partner (p. 111). This understanding shaped policy in Colombia starting in the 1950s until the 1980s, at which point “the lost decade” (p. 134) soured Colombians’ impression of the supposed beneficial relationship between development and the nation state, resulting in a decentralization process that had the effect of “debunking… the state’s human and spatial geography as the sole territory for development” (p. 149). Eslava’s rich analysis of this process sets the stage for the most impressive chapters of his book, in which he deconstructs Bogota’s administrative stance towards illegal neighbourhoods and their residents.
Chapter 5 focuses on the way in which the city of Bogota has embraced the global development project in its engagement with illegal neighbourhoods while simultaneously reshaping residents’ subjectivities. It is in this chapter that Eslava’s work takes on a life of its own, as the author shows with meticulous care how Bogota city administrators compiled land-use maps and used other administrative technologies to literally draw illegal neighbourhoods into the city body, which he argues is an activity that is part of a “formula” to “create a collection of disciplined and self-governed individuals” along the normative understandings explained earlier in the book (p. 187). Eslava’s observations are not limited to Bogota’s administrative technologies, however. In Chapter 6, he examines how these administrative practices result in the “territorialisation of governance and the local routinization of international legal and development disciple”, which in turn give rise to new forms of resistance (p. 239). Eslava explains how this resistance arises out of the city’s attempts to use law to “produce a new kind of locality… [and] a new kind of citizenry” (p. 240)–in essence relying on normative law and development assumptions that law is an objective tool with which administrators can construct and order “the social and physical world” (p. 241). As a result, Eslava argues that the city’s institutions and its administrators “become performers of the international in disguise” (p. 251), giving rise to the “depoliticization” (p. 265) of resistance as residents of illegal-made-legal neighbourhoods cope with their new subjectivities.
Local Space, Global Life is a book that is thoughtful not only in its engagement with the field of law and development over the last 60 years, but also in how it gives life to the issues that it identifies through its analysis of administrative practices and citizens’ reactions to them in Bogota. Ultimately, it is Eslava’s ethnographic engagement with Bogota’s administrative technologies and with the people which they affect that makes this book an enlightening survey not only of normative global orders, but also of the ordinary way in which these otherwise invisible ideas manifest themselves in local spaces and subjectivities.