Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Shane Chalmers on Colonialism and Law (New Book Chapter)

"Colonialism and Law"
Shane Chalmers
in Elgar Encyclopedia of Comparative Law 
Edward Elgar Publishing, pp.282–291
Published online: December 2023

I. Origins

The emergence of ‘colonialism and law’ as a discrete field of study is typically dated to the 1980s (Merry [1991]; Comaroff [2001]; Merry [2003]; Mawani [2015]). Studies of law in colonial contexts were increasingly common from the early twentieth century, with anthropologists from Europe and the United States turning their attention to the adjudicative systems, laws and jurisprudences of societies in colonies from Africa to the Pacific and the Americas (Malinowski [1926]; Schapera [1938]; Evans-Pritchard [1937] and [1940]; Llewellyn and Hoebel [1941]; Gluckman [1955] and [1965]; Bohannan [1957]). One of the great debates of that time, between British-South African anthropologist Max Gluckman and US American anthropologist Paul Bohannan, over the (in)commensurability of concepts across legal traditions, still reverberates through the comparative, anthropological corners of the field (Goodale [2017] 15-16). Unlike the scholars of the 1980s, these early legal anthropologists were less interested in the colonial contexts that framed their studies than in ‘discovering what had been the shape of pre-colonial society’, the ‘true’ nature of non-European peoples (Moore [2001] 97). The field-defining change came with the publication of work by Francis Snyder (1981), Martin Chanock (1985) and Sally Falk Moore (1986). By approaching the laws of colonized societies as a matter of (colonial) history, their research began to show how these laws were affected by, even the creations of, colonization (Merry [2003] 572, 575-6). As Chanock [1985] 4 wrote in the introduction to his ground-breaking Law, Custom, and Social Order: The Colonial Experience in Malawi and Zambia, ‘the customary law, far from being a survival, was created’ by the ‘changes and conflicts’. Along with other seminal legal anthropologies of the period, by MB Hooker (1975), Peter Fitzpatrick (1980), John Comaroff and Simon Roberts (1981), Clifford Geertz (1983), Robert Gordon and Mervyn Meggitt (1985) and Joan Vincent (1989), this new body of scholarship opened a wide-ranging field of enquiry into the relationship between colonialism and law, which prepared the ground for much of the work of the following three decades...

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