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The Life of the Law: Anthropological Projects

Laura Nader
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 275
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  • Book Info
    The Life of the Law
    Book Description:

    Laura Nader, an instrumental figure in the development of the field of legal anthropology, investigates an issue of vital importance for our time: the role of the law in the struggle for social and economic justice. In this book she gives an overview of the history of legal anthropology and at the same time urges anthropologists, lawyers, and activists to recognize the centrality of law in social change. Nader traces the evolution of the plaintiff's role in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century and passionately argues that the atrophy of the plaintiff's power during this period represents a profound challenge to justice and democracy. Taking into account the vast changes wrought in both anthropology and the law by globalization, Nader speaks to the increasing dominance of large business corporations and the prominence of neoliberal ideology and practice today. In her discussion of these trends, she considers the rise of the alternative dispute resolution movement, which since the 1960s has been part of a major overhaul of the U.S. judicial system. Nader links the increasing popularity of this movement with the erosion of the plaintiff's power and suggests that mediation as an approach to conflict resolution is structured to favor powerful--often corporate--interests.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93618-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    In the 1960s the possibility of anthropologists teaching in law schools would have been anathema in most law school faculties. In fact, the relationships between anthropologists and lawyers might have been antagonistic. “How dare you speak about the law when you are not a lawyer?” was the first greeting I received at an interdisciplinary symposium. There has been a crossing of the Rubicon; disciplines are blurring. Not long ago only the few were interested in anthropologists’ esoteric works on African customary law. Today those interested in traditional peacemaking in Africa include professionals from disparate fields—psychology, law, political science, globalization...

  5. ONE Evolving an Ethnography of Law: A Personal Document
    (pp. 18-71)

    I began my first fieldwork in 1957, during a quieter, slower period, a time when an anthropologist had some degree of isolation—or so it appeared. I was supported by a Mexican government grant of approximately $1,200 to cover all expenses for nine months’ fieldwork in Oaxaca, Mexico. My project was to study a region as yet unexplored by either anthropologists or historians, and to focus on the question of settlement densities in order to find out how settlement patterns affect forms of social organization. The project was a fairly general one, but then my training had been general rather...

  6. TWO Lawyers and Anthropologists
    (pp. 72-116)

    Although this chapter is about lawyers and anthropologists, I have never sought to make an interdisciplinary field out of law and anthropology (although my work is informed by other disciplines), nor have I hoped to amalgamate the work of lawyers and anthropologists (although we inform each other’s work). Indeed, I am skeptical, if not contemptuous, of lawyers who claim the title of anthropologist merely because they are studying the law of everyday life or native peoples; they may find the experience stimulating, but they have little grasp of what ethnographic work entails. I know of no anthropologists who claim to...

  7. THREE Hegemonic Processes in Law: Colonial to Contemporary
    (pp. 117-167)

    Placing the law firmly within the more general categories of social and cultural control, or controlling processes more specifically, has been one of the most important results of enlarging the stage and multiplying the tools for discovery. Recognizing the multiple jurisdictions of law—“indigenous,” colonial, religious, or nation-state law—underscores the idea that law is often not a neutral regulator of power but instead the vehicle by which different parties attempt to gain and maintain control and legitimization of a given social unit. Nor is law that which stands between us and anarchy, for the lack of state-centered legal systems...

  8. FOUR The Plaintiff: A User Theory
    (pp. 168-212)

    While the movement of law, whether progressive or retrogressive, may be influenced by scholarly frames of reference such as elitism or populism or instrumentalism, motion in the law may also be a result of political transformations such as those brought about by colonialism, religious missionization, independence movements, global legal imperialism, and borderless multinational economies. The focus of the earlier chapters reflected an interest in documenting extensive historical processes as part of the ethnographic project to contextualize these processes and imbue them with meaning. In particular, the harmony legal model emerged as a powerful mode of control, presumably averting adversarial relations...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 213-230)

    The study of law as a process of control and a mode of discourse has become more sophisticated with the varied use and abandonment of schools of thought. Today the possibilities for greater understanding of the place and power of law are wide open, the ground is laid, and the issues are staring us in the face: the imposition of dichotomous Western categories that are embedded in cultural practices, categories such as collective versus individual property, justice versus injustice, statism (the belief that rights are defined by texts, treatises, and the like) versus universalism (the idea that values are of...

    (pp. 231-250)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 251-262)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-263)