Although Allegra’s editorial team is academically firmly rooted in legal anthropology, this is – we believe – the first explicit collection of new publications of this subfield. It covers a vast spectrum of topics and shows legal anthropology’s relevance in today’s world: Legal anthropology has definitely overcome its preference for “local dispute-watching,” which, according to Sally Falk Moore, had been “the principal form of social voyeurism in legal anthropology” ever since Gluckman’s focus on court cases. We are thus looking for reviewers for the following eight recent books. If you are interested in writing a review for us,
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Sometimes the outcome of a lawsuit depends upon sensations known only to the person who experiences them, such as the buzzing sound heard by a plaintiff who suffers from tinnitus after an accident. Lawyers, litigants, and expert witnesses are now seeking to re-create these sensations in the courtroom, using digital technologies to simulate litigants’ subjective experiences and thus to help jurors know—not merely know about—what it is like to be inside a litigant’s mind. But with this novel type of evidence comes a host of questions: Can anyone really know what it is like to have another person’s sensory experiences? Why should courts allow jurors to see or hear these simulations? And how might this evidence alter the ways in which judges and jurors do justice?
In Experiencing Other Minds in the Courtroom, Neal Feigenson turns the courtroom into a forum for exploring the profound philosophical, psychological, and legal ramifications of our efforts to know what other people’s conscious experiences are truly like. Drawing on disciplines ranging from cognitive psychology to psychophysics to media studies, Feigenson harnesses real examples of digitally simulated subjective perceptions to explain how the epistemological value of this evidence is affected by who creates it, how it is made, and how it is presented. Through his close scrutiny of the different kinds of simulations and the different knowledge claims they make, Feigenson is able to suggest best practices for how we might responsibly incorporate such evidence into the courtroom.
Judith Beyer presents a finely textured ethnographic study that sheds new light on the legal and moral ordering of everyday life in northwestern Kyrgyzstan. Through her extensive fieldwork, Beyer captures the thoughts and voices of local people in two villages, Aral and Engels, and combines these with firsthand observations to create an original ethnography. Beyer shows how local Kyrgyz negotiate proper behavior and regulate disputes by invoking custom, known to the locals as salt. While salt is presented as age-old tradition, its invocation needs to be understood as a highly developed and flexible rhetorical strategy that people adapt to suit the political, legal, economic, and religious environments. Officially, codified state law should take precedence when it comes to dispute resolution, yet the unwritten laws of salt and the increasing importance of Islamic law provide the standards for ordering everyday life. As Beyer further reveals, interpretations of both Islamic and state law are also intrinsically linked to salt.
By interweaving case studies on kinship, legal negotiations, festive events, mourning rituals, and political and business dealings, Beyer shows how salt is the binding element in rural Kyrgyz social life, used to explain and negotiate moral behavior and to postulate communal identity. In this way, salt provides a time-tested, sustainable source of authentication that defies changes in government and the tides of religious movements. Beyer’s ground-level analysis provides a broad base of knowledge that will be valuable for students and researchers of contemporary Central Asia.
von Benda-Beckmann, Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann. 2016. Political and Legal Transformations of an Indonesian Polity: The Nagari from Colonisation to Decentralisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 528 pp. Pb $49.99. ISBN: 9781316618530.
Political and Legal Transformations of an Indonesian Polity is a long-term study of the historical transformations of the Minangkabau polity of nagari, property relations and the ever-changing dynamic relationships between Minangkabau matrilineal adat law, Islamic law and state law. While the focus is on the period since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, the book charts a long history of political and legal transformations before and after Indonesia’s independence, in which the continuities are as notable as the changes. It also throws light on the transnational processes through which legal and political ideas spread and acquire new meanings. The multi-temporal historical approach adopted is also relevant to the more general discussions of the relationship between anthropology and history, the creation of customary law, identity construction, and the anthropology of colonialism.
Brunnegger, Sandra and Faulk, Karen Ann, Eds. 2016. A Sense of Justice: Legal Knowledge and Lived Experience in Latin America. Redwood City: Stanford University Press. 240 pp. Pb $25.95. ISBN: 9780804799072.
Throughout Latin America, the idea of “justice” serves as the ultimate goal and rationale for a wide variety of actions and causes. In the Chilean Atacama Desert, residents have undertaken a prolonged struggle for their right to groundwater. Family members of bombing victims in Buenos Aires demand that the state provide justice for the attack. In Colombia, some victims of political violence have turned to the courts for resolution, while others reject the state’s ability to fairly adjudicate their grievances and have constructed a non-state tribunal. In each of these examples, the protagonists seek one main thing: justice.
A Sense of Justice ethnographically explores the complex dynamics of justice production across Latin America. The chapters examine (in)justice as it is lived and imagined today and what it means for those who claim and regulate its parameters, including the Brazilian police force, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal in Colombia, and the Argentine Supreme Court. Inextricable as “justice” is from inequality, violence, crime, and corruption, it emerges through memory, in space, and where ideals meet practical limitations. Ultimately, the authors show how understanding the dynamic processes of constructing justice is essential to creating cooperative rather than oppressive forms of law.
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves—it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing—from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war—they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.
To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.
The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.
Kristin Conner Doughty examines how Rwandans navigated the combination of harmony and punishment in grassroots courts purportedly designed to rebuild the social fabric in the wake of the 1994 genocide. Postgenocide Rwandan officials developed new local courts ostensibly modeled on traditional practices of dispute resolution as part of a broader national policy of unity and reconciliation. The three legal forums at the heart of Remediation in Rwanda—genocide courts called inkiko gacaca, mediation committees called comite y’abunzi, and a legal aid clinic—all emphasized mediation based on principles of compromise and unity, brokered by third parties with the authority to administer punishment. Doughty demonstrates how exhortations to unity in legal forums served as a form of cultural control, even as people rebuilt moral community and conceived alternative futures through debates there. Investigating a broad range of disputes, she connects the grave disputes about genocide to the ordinary frictions people endured living in its aftermath.
Remediation in Rwanda is therefore about not only national reconstruction but also a broader narrative of how the embrace of law, particularly in postconflict contexts, influences people’s lives. Though law-based mediation is framed as benign—and is often justified as a purer form of culturally rooted dispute resolution, both by national governments such as Rwanda’s, and in the transitional justice movement more broadly—its implementation, as Doughty reveals, involves coercion and accompanying resistance. Yet in grassroots legal forums that are deeply contextualized, law-based mediation can open up spaces in which people negotiate the micropolitics of reconciliation.
From legal responsibility for genocide to rectifying past injuries to indigenous people, the anthropology of law addresses some of the crucial ethical issues of our day. Over the past twenty-five years, anthropologists have studied how new forms of law have reshaped important questions of citizenship, biotechnology, and rights movements, among many others. Meanwhile, the rise of international law and transitional justice has posed new ethical and intellectual challenges to anthropologists.
Anthropology and Law provides a comprehensive overview of the anthropology of law in the post-Cold War era. Mark Goodale introduces the central problems of the field and builds on the legacy of its intellectual history, while a foreword by Sally Engle Merry highlights the challenges of using the law to seek justice on an international scale. The book’s chapters cover a range of intersecting areas including language and law, history, regulation, indigenous rights, and gender.
For a complete understanding of the consequential ways in which anthropologists have studied, interacted with, and critiqued, the ways and means of law, Anthropology and Law is required reading.
There are approximately eleven million undocumented people living in the United States, and most of them have family members who are U.S. citizens. There is a common perception that marriage to a U.S. citizen puts undocumented immigrants on a quick-and-easy path to U.S. citizenship. But for people who have entered the U.S. unlawfully and live here without papers, the line to legal status is neither short nor easy, even for those with spouses who are U.S. citizens.
Becoming Legal: Immigration Law and Mixed-Status Families follows mixed-status couples down the long and bumpy road of immigration processing. It explores how they navigate every step along the way, from the decision to undertake legalization, to the immigration interview in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to the effort to put together a case of “extreme hardship” so that the undocumented family member can return. Author Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz also discusses families’ efforts to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of immigration processing–both for those who are successful and those who are not.
Sally Falk Moore, ed. 2005. Law and Anthropology: A Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.