Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Kuran and Lustig on Judicial Biases in the Ottoman Empire

Judicial Biases in the Ottoman Empire: The Roles of Inter-Court Competition and Personal Exchange has just been posted by Timur Kuran and Scott Lustig, both of the Duke University Department of Economics. Here's the abstract:
A key ingredient of the transition to impersonal exchange and modern economic growth has been the emergence of courts that enforce contracts efficiently and resolve disputes fairly. This paper shows that the Islamic courts of the Ottoman Empire exhibited biases that would have limited the expansion of exchanges, particularly those between Muslims and non-Muslims. It thus identifies a reason why the Islamic world's economic modernization required the establishment of secular courts. In quantifying the biases of Ottoman courts, the paper also discredits both of the opposing claims found in Ottoman judicial historiography: the view that these courts treated Christians and Jews fairly and the counter-view that as a matter of practice they ruled against non-Muslims disproportionately. Biases against non-Muslims were in fact institutionalized. By the same token, non-Muslims did better than Muslims in adjudicated interfaith disputes, because they settled many of them out of court in an effort to limit the effects of judicial biases.


Anonymous said...

I would hope there is at least some screen for quality and method as to what constitutes legal history on this otherwise valuable blog. This paper is typical of the very worst of attempts by economists to do legal history and comparative law. Starting from a superficial and outdated presumption about economic growth and courts, where an uncritical cite to three heavily contested works, specifically so by historians, counts as a lit review. Methodologically the paper employs implicit comparison of uncontextualized statistics with a generalized model based on rational choice theory, again with no reference to extant literature on local adjudication - just using an abstracted "efficient" Western court. And ending with a transhistorical claim using categories at the level of abstraction such as "development" and "Islamic law." You really want to promote this sort of work?

Mary L. Dudziak said...

Thanks for your comment. If we only posted work that we liked and wanted to "promote," the blog would have a lot less on it. I think the better course is to post work that historians might have an interest in, including work that we don't like and we disagree with, and then open up comments for responses like yours.

There is a line of course, and we don't post everything (e.g. SSRN posts that look like unfinished student papers). But a historian working on courts in the Ottoman empire might be critical of this work, but still might want to be aware of it.