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Dhiraj Nainani
The University of Hong Kong

How does the law ‘move’ through urban space and influence its users? Taking as its starting point an invitation from legal geographers (such as David Delaney and Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos) to investigate how space and law influence each other – and using the works of Michel Foucault, Henri Lefebvre, Kyle McGee, and Hans Lindahl as its methodological foundation – this paper attempts to trace how law can materialise in and transform urban spaces.
To illustrate this, the paper uses a place that defies conventional explanation: the ethnic enclave of Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong. The building has been called several things, such as ‘the ghetto at the centre of the world’, ‘the best example of globalisation in action’, and ‘Hong Kong’s dark heart’.

Using an ethnographic approach of ‘walking with(in) the law’ in and around Chungking Mansions, this paper specifically looks at the touts that work outside its entrance. The touts sell a variety of both legal and illegal goods, and often do not possess the legal right to work. Yet they play an active role in shaping the urban space around them. By observing (and photographing) this unique spatio-legal practice of tout-veillance, this paper attempts to paint a portrait of the complex assemblage that is Chungking Mansions.

Dhiraj Nainani completed his LLB and LLM from the London School of Economics and Political Science before joining the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law for his PhD. His thesis looks at the relationship between the law and urban spatiality. Specifically, it draws upon both spatial theorists and legal geographers and uses their theoretical work to conduct a ‘walking ethnography’ of an inherently unique site: the ‘infamous’ Chungking Mansions, an ethnic enclave in the heart of Hong Kong. In doing so, it aims to show how the law is embedded in – and firmly influences – the production of urban space.

STREAM: Law’s materialisms

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