(2010) JLP 61: 31-53
This is a study of some contemporary anti-authoritarian movements in Britain, specifically that concerned with social centres. It considers their interactions with the law, and the forms of their own law. Making use of unstructured interviews with members of the squatting and social centre community in British cities, alongside members of a number of collectives, the paper gives an account of the way in which these communities autonomously run their activities and manage conflicts. It is argued that the social centre movement uses a mish-mash of both illegal and legal forms, labelled illegitimate by the law and yet incorporating and manifesting new forms of law at the same time. Squatting bases itself upon the reclamation of social space, the reclamation of the forsaken land that has been gobbled up by capital. It harks back to an era when there were no fences, no borders, nothing enclosed. Autonomy is a reaction to this dispossession, and the memory that it ignites is that of the commons. Social centres may be seen as embodying spaces of resistance, that are created through the navigation of alternative normative fields, in parallel with the influence of the state order. However, the movement in practice benefits from provisions in British law which are seen as giving ‘squatters’ rights’ and creating ‘licensed squatters’.
These innately anti-authoritarian forms of resistance in practice operate in a law-making fashion, creating ‘hidden law’. This law evades the spotlight of the system, is non-hierarchical, non-representative and non-coercive. This study seeks to highlight the legal/illegal processes and forms of hidden law as instances of resistance to social injustice through the aegis of legal pluralism. It shows that the relationship of the movement to the law of the state is varied and ambiguous, and discusses how literature on legal pluralism may assist in the understanding of how far it embodies a ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ pluralistic nature.