Legal anthropology studies the social meaning and importance of law. It deals with how law is created, how law sustains and changes other social institutions and how law structures social behaviours. At the same time, it raises the question of how law itself is socially constructed. This dual way of looking at the law, as both shaped by society and shaping society, is fundamental to the perspective of legal anthropology.
In the early 20th century, questions of social control and integration were key subjects for research within legal anthropology. Later, these were superseded by an interest in conflict and dispute resolution. Already during colonial rule, questions of how conflicts in legal norms shape multiple legal systems (legal pluralism) were raised. With the globalisation of law, these issues are gaining new significance. When researchers observe the processes by which legal norms become transnational, it is first a question of studying the normative changes that are initiated as a result of the “import” or “export” of law – be they human rights, specific types of ownership law, or the standards for legal procedure. Second, questions about the role of law in cementing or changing social inequality, the conditions in which legal means can be used to change social order, and the ambivalent relationship between law and power are increasingly attracting interest.
Legal anthropology constitutes a central focus in the master program ATS.
Law and order in urban India
Studying everyday policing in Mumbai, I analyses police interpretations of law and the multifaceted social, economic and political relations that such interpretation is embedded in. I thereby trace the negotiations of rights, norms of justice and authority that occur in everyday interactions between citizens and state officials, as well as among state officials themselves. I am particularly interested in how security legislation has come to define the limits of legitimate political articulation.
Aiding and abetting: juridifiying transnational liability
The attribution of responsibility in world society is increasingly a field of contestation. On the one hand, the perception of causal and moral links reaching far in space and time are ever more explicitly pronounced; on the other hand, the very complexity of these links often engenders a fragmentation of responsibility both in law as well as in moral commitment. Current institutions of responsibility in law appear to abstract from enabling contexts, resulting in appeals to a global community of concern without corresponding obligatory commitments. Focussing on the use of „aiding and abetting“ in strategic litigation as well as jurisdiction, I trace the contestations over global responsibility and liability.
Doing Credibility; The Construction of Credibility in Swiss Asylum Procedures
In deciding whether asylum seekers are granted asylum or not, immigration officers and judges in Switzerland as elsewhere must not only decide whether an asylum seeker fits the definition of a refugee. They must also assess the credibility of the asylum seeker’s statements. It is precisely this assessment and decision-making process Johanna Fuchs, Laura Affolter and Raphaël Rey analyse in this project. The researchers focus on four of the main actors involved in asylum procedures: asylum seekers, legal advisors, officers working for the State Secretariat for Migration as well as judges and clerks in the Federal Administrative Court. By looking at these different actors the project examines how credibility and the lack of credibility are defined and and how credibility is negotiated in the decision-making process.
Law in Protest: Transnational Struggles for Corporate Liability
Negative impacts on the environment and on the livelihood of local populations caused by transnational corporations (TNCs) operating in the so-called Global South have become a politically contested issue. Holding the companies involved or their employees legally liable has often been difficult because of jurisdictional or governance obstacles. Regardless the difficult legal situation, there are worldwide growing attempts to bring TNCs to court for violations of human rights or for serious environmental damages. By referring to a transnational discourse of human rights and by using international narratives of law and justice, local protest groups make use of law as an instrument to legitimize their claims and to gain international support for their struggles. In most of the court cases social movements, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and transnational networks of human rights lawyers play a major role. These networks often include not only European cause lawyers and the concerned plaintiffs in the operation area of the defendant TNC, but also link plaintiff groups, local NGOs and lawyers of independent court cases in different countries.
A considerable gap in research exists concerning how advocacy organisations and local plaintiffs influence each other with respect to normative evaluation, political goals and litigation strategies. The project “Law in Protest: Transnational Struggles for Corporate Liability” enquires into these changes, examining the normative change born from these litigation processes both among local plaintiffs and in the legal norms adopted to litigate against TNCs. Our project assumes that lawsuits and the practices of “case-making” are social processes that, on the one hand, reflect existing power relations between actors involved, but, on the other hand, provide space for negotiations about norms, interpretations and goals.
By conducting empirical ethnographic research on the work of lawyers and human rights activists in different settings and places, the overarching aim of the project is to find out whether the strategic application of national law leads to normative – legal as well as social – change. We content that by a) enquiring into the evolving strategies of local plaintiffs using national laws against TNCs, b) the strategic litigation of cause lawyering by transnational legal NGOs, and c) the relationships between these different actors involved in the court cases we can gain insights into the normative changes occurring at these different levels. We will analyse the practice of strategic litigation applied by cause lawyers in Germany and the United Kingdom (subproject A) as well as by social movements and local NGOs in Peru (subproject B). We investigate how local protest movements and international law firms introduce transnational discourses of human rights and social justice into individual national court cases with the intent to enforce social and political change on the local level. By studying these transnational human rights networks in the field of corporate liability, the project deals with a key issue of contemporary social anthropology.
The Moral Economy of Assam Tea Production
The current PhD project is an ethnography on the moral economy of tea production on tea plantations in Assam. I am analysing how various entangled and contradictory moral frameworks – underlying the plantation economy of Assam tea – are conceived of, embodied, negotiated and transformed ‘…to understand the everyday-grounded logics of macro-economic (and political) processes…’ (Palomera & Vetta 2016: 428). I am furthermore interested in how structural inequalities are generated within/by the tea plantation economy in Assam and how they are maintained or challenged, for example, by forms of state regulation, moral sentiments or forms of protest.
The emergence of global tax payers: the (re-)making of international business tax law
This ethnographic research project explores the emergence of global tax norms and the negotiation and making of international tax law. By studying the actors and the processes through which international tax law develops, this project contributes to the understanding of the making and change of these international laws and global norms. More