Thursday, October 28, 2010

Colonies and Postcolonies of Law

[The Department of History at Princeton University announces the conference "Colonies and Postcolonies of Law, to be held March 18, 2011. Here is the call:]

The conference addresses the centrality of law in the construction of colonial rule. We aim to examine how colonial law emerged as colonialists interacted with diverse populations in the colonies. The study of the relationship between law and colonialism has taken two broad trajectories. On one hand, scholars have highlighted how law provided the instruments for the creation of the colonial state, allowing it to exercise a vast amount of power in restructuring the colony. Conversely, law opened up avenues of resistance for colonized populations. This conference aims to go beyond this dichotomy by focusing on law as a site of constant negotiation which produced new forms of bureaucracy and documentation practices. As colonial legal systems cast long shadows and formed the bedrock of the national legal systems today, this conference will also examine how these colonial legal regimes influence postcolonial nations. The last few years has seen a growth of interest in colonial legal history to which this conference hopes to contribute by bringing junior scholars together in conversation.

NYU Professor of History Lauren Benton will deliver a keynote address at the conference.

Sub themes

Defining Legality: Criminals, Outlaws and Rebels

New categories of legality emerged during the colonial period such that criminals and rebels became interchangeable notions. What makes a ‘rebel’ and a ‘criminal’? What counts as evidence of a crime? How were penal regimes created? How did colonial regimes contribute to the construction of the international laws of war and human rights?

Competing Legitimacies: Religious Law and Colonial Authority

The colonial state grappled with existing legal systems in the colony. Some systems were delegitimized while others were bolstered under the purview of colonial rule. By privileging certain forms of legitimacy, colonial states challenged traditional norms and institutions such as customary rights and religious laws. Why were certain legal systems granted legitimacy under the colonial rule? How did certain religious texts and figures emerge as more authoritative than others? How did the process of translation change understandings of key religious concepts? What forms of tensions were created between traditional authorities and the emerging modern legal profession in the colony?

Private Lives and Public Law

The modern colonial state crafted new boundaries between the public and private. For example, colonial projects of social reform transformed marital and kinship relations. How did the colonial legal regime come to delineate the private and the public sphere? How did colonized populations engage with this process of delineation? How did the changing legal order affect colonial subjects, in particular women, who often emerged as the sites for legal reform? Did postcolonial nations adopt colonial legal conceptions of the private and public spheres?

Constructing Borders

Colonial law demanded certainty of boundaries and jurisdiction, yet it operated within a plural legal order and had limited capacity to police frontiers. How were legal borders fixed? How did colonial populations choose between competing forums granted by neighboring jurisdictions? How did the emergence of the postcolonial nations complicate colonial mapping and
jurisdictional jostling?

Law and Capital

The centrality of trade and capital to the colonial project is increasingly overshadowed by cultural and social histories. Law, in the form of land revenue, forest laws and mercantile regulations, was in fact, central to the economic project of the colonial state. Can law be used to bring economic histories in conversation with the social and cultural? What economic practices came to be legitimized with the colonial reordering of the economy? How did colonial law engage with older kinship based mercantile networks such as those of the Arabs, Chinese, Parsis and Marwaris?

Paper proposals should include a title, a 350-word abstract, institutional affiliation and contact information. Please submit proposals to coloniesoflaw@gmail.com by December 15th 2010.

Organizers: Nurfadzilah Yahaya and Rohit De, History Department, Princeton University

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