Governing Canal Life

Dave Cowan*, Barbara D Hardy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


This article focuses on the governance of canals in England and Wales. The Canal and River Trust (“CRT”), the owner and manager of the waterways also has a statutory responsibility to grant “certificates” or licences. The licence constructs a category called “continuous cruisers” who live aboard their boat. Drawing on a sample of interviews with Continuous Cruiser Liveaboards (CCLs), we discuss how their governance by the CRT has gradually encroached on their everyday lives, leading to them questioning their lives on the canal. We illustrate this through considering how the CRT translated obscure legislation to make it legible through techniques of simplification, but which had problematic effects on CCLs; and how apparently enabling and constraining regulation operates, paradoxically, in contradictory ways, both significantly affecting CCLs’ everyday lives. At heart, there is a simple story here of a nomadic way of life which is of relatively recent vintage but which is being (or felt to be) sedentarised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-59
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Law and Society
Issue number1
Early online date19 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • governance
  • regulation
  • legibility
  • canals

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