The Life and Law of Corals: Breathing Meditations


The Life and Law of Corals: Breathing Meditations



Published as Chapter 19 in Handbook of Research Methods in Environmental Law, Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos & Victoria Brooks, eds.

Corals have recently emerged as both a sign and a measure of the catastrophic future of life on earth at this particularly volatile time, referred to by some as the Anthropocene. As such, they have been the focus of intensive conservation management. Their symbiotic algae-bacterial-animal relationship and their precarious oceanic, ecological, and chimeric life make corals into fascinating windows into biopolitical regimes of conservation. Corals are also ‘good to think with’ about the interface of culture, science, and law and about the particular ways through which law makes life. My chapter draws on a dozen in-depth interviews with scientists and policy makers, mostly in the United States but also in Australia and Israel, as well as participatory observations of both coral and coral scientists, to explore how laws calculate and govern the project of saving (certain) coral life. I refer to this reflective, ‘breathing-with’ methodology, whereby the ethnographer submerses herself with the subjects or topic of her inquiry, as ‘immersive ethnography.’ Utilizing this immersive ethnographic stance, my chapter recognizes the ‘becoming legalities’ of coral conservation, demonstrating that coral life and death are not only biological and cultural, but also legal, phenomena.

Publication Date



Edward Elgar


978 1 78471 256 3


corals, legal ethnography, immersion methodology, biopolitics and conservation, breathing


Environmental Law | Law

The Life and Law of Corals: Breathing Meditations