Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Readings in Legal Anthropology

Members of the H-Law listserve recently engaged in a conversation about good introductory works for a student interested in legal anthropology. I thought it might be useful to compile all the suggestions in one place, and to ask our readers to weigh in. Here's the list so far:
W. Lance Bennett and Martha S. Feldman, Reconstructing Reality in the Courtroom: Justice and Judgment in American Culture (Rutgers University Press, 1981).

Steve Bogira, Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse (Knopf, 2005).

Paul Bohannon, ed., Law and Warfare: Studies in the Anthropology of Conflict (Natural History Press, 1967).

Donald Brenneis, "Language and Disputing," Annual Review of Anthropology 17
(1988): 221-37.

John M. Conley and William M. O'Barr, Rules versus Relationships: The Ethnography of Legal Discourse (University of Chicago Press, 1990)

Jim Donovan, Legal Anthropology: An Introduction (AltaMira Press, 2007)

Sally Engle Merry, Colonizing Hawai'i: The Cultural Power of Law (Princeton University Press, 2000)

Sally Engle Merry, Getting Justice and Getting Even: Legal Consciousness Among Working-Class Americans (University of Chicago Press, 1990).

Sally Falk Moore, ed., Law and Anthropology: A Reader (Blackwell, 2005)

Laura Nader, No Access to Law: Alternatives to the American Judicial System (Academic Press, 1980)

Laura Nader, The Life of the Law: Anthropological Projects (University of California Press, 2002)

David Nelken, ed., Comparing Legal Cultures (Dartmouth, 1997)

David Nelken & Johannes Feest, eds., Adapting Legal Cultures (Hart, 2001)

Austin Sarat and Jonathan Simon, eds., Cultural Analysis, Cultural Studies, and the Law: Moving Beyond Legal Realism (Duke University Press, 2003)
H-Law members also suggested the work of Annelise Riles (Cornell Law School) and Anne Griffiths (Edinburgh Law School), but did not provide titles.

Do you have additions or comments? When I familiarize myself with a new area, I sometimes start by identifying a strong book series. The Chicago Series in Law and Society (edited by John M. Conley and Lynn Mather) appears to be a good resource for this topic.

hat tip: H-Law, and all the listserve members who offered suggestions. You can see a log of the discussion here, under the heading "Legal Anthropology?"


  1. In light of the reference to Bohannon, ed., Law and Warfare: Studies in the Anthropology of Conflict, see also Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, John D. Kelly, Beatrice Jauregui, Sean T. Mitchell and Jeremy Walton, eds.

  2. I've not looked at the linked discussion but I'll chime in with some titles:

    I’m not sure what is meant here by “introductory,” but if this at all has an historical perspective then it’s missing classics by the likes of Bronislaw Malinowski and Max Gluckman. But speaking for an area I know more about, I would include several works by Lawrence Rosen, for starters: The Anthropology of Justice: Law as Culture in Islamic Society (Cambridge University Press, 1989) and Law as Culture: An Invitation (Princeton University Press, 2006). And there’s Alain Supiot’s Homo Juridicus: On the Anthropological Function of the Law (English trans., Verso, 2007). There’s also Clinton Bailey’s remarkable book, Bedouin Law from Sinai and the Negev: Justice without Government (Yale University Press, 2009).

    See too Norbert Rouland, Legal Anthropology (Athlone Press, 1994), and Peter Sack and Jonathan Aleck, eds., Law and Anthropology (Dartmouth, 1992).

    Perhaps not self-consciously or exclusively “anthropological” (and ‘introductory’ in at least one sense: with regard to its subject matter) but no less deserving to be included in the that rubric is Werner Menski’s Hindu Law: Beyond Tradition and Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2003).

  3. Patrick O’Donnell refers to Clinton Bailey’s book “Bedouin Law from Sinai and the Negev” (Yale U.P., 2009). It’s good to see that Bedouin law is being mentioned, since it has long been neglected by anthropologists of law. Bailey’s book, however, needs to be treated with caution. See my review in Middle East Journal 64 (2010), 304-306.
    For an overview of Bedouin law in the Middle East and North Africa, see my “Customary Law among the Bedouin of the Middle East and North Africa,” in Nomadic Societies in the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Dawn Chatty, pp. 239–279. Leiden: Brill. Two of my publications may be of particular interest to historians of law, since they draw on a good deal of comparative material from ancient and medieval European law. These are “The Contract with Surety in Bedouin Customary Law.” UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, 2 (2003), 163–280 (available on Lexus), and “Archaic Forms of Contract in Max Weber’s Theories and in Arab and Somali Customary Law,” in Law, Custom, and Statute in the Muslim World, ed. Ron Shaham, pp. 131–148. Leiden: Brill. The last of these disputes interpretations of Weber offered by Kronman and Belley, and suggests an approach to the subject that is at once more rigorous and more empirical than the one adopted by these authors.

  4. My previous comment appeared with only my first name, Frank, so I'd like to add my family name, Stewart. And I'll take the opportunity to mention a book of mine that is a mixture of legal anthropology and history of law. It's called "Honor" (University of Chicago Press, 1994), and it deals with the concept of honor in European law and in Bedouin law. It offers a new analysis of the concept, arguing that honor is a right. The book shows how this analysis can make sense of the pledge of honor, which was widely used in Central Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; and it shows that the Bedouin also have a pledge of honor in their legal system. The book contains a sketch of the history of honor in Europe, including the kind of honor that found expression in the duel.

  5. Thanks Frank. I myself took the time to look up your work so I learned your last name! I can't access all your articles (I don't have access to Lexus, for example) but I've read the review which of course I found helpful.

  6. clinton.bailey@trincoll.eduMarch 13, 2011 at 5:47:00 PM EDT

    Clinton Bailey writes...'Patrick O'Donnell's discussion of my book,"Bedouin Law from Sinai and the Negev: Justice without Government," (Yale, 2009) with Frank Stewart reveals the seemy side of academe--on the part of Stewart. I was in Sinai for about 10 years doing research on Bedouin poetry and culture in general when Stewart came along in 1977, and it was I who helped him find his Bedouin informants in Sinai. Although Stewart did some good work on Bedouin law, which I cite in my book along with certain minor criticisms, he has been unable to put together a comprehensive volume on the subject, as he promised to do 23 years ago in the preface to his "Texts in Sinai Bedouin Law, Part 1" (1988, p.xi). Putting together a myriad of random details that the researcher encounters in the field from experiences and from informants who do not think linearly, in order to create a comprehensive picture of this oral law, is a Herculean feat that requires an enormous familiarity with Bedouin culture; and perhaps Stewart's five or six years of field research were insufficient to provide him with the grasp needed for the task. Although much of my own field research was in a variety of areas - such as Bedouin history, economics, beliefs, social organization, poetry, proverbs and natural environment - I did not feel ready to write up the Bedouin law that I encountered and learned until I had been in the field for 40 years. That was also 20 years after Stewart failed to do it himself. I thus felt free to pursue the project. Stewart, however, has a rather large ego (or the opposite) and cannot abide my having written the book that he entertained doing. Therefore, he was quick to embark on a crusade to discredit it - in his review in the Middle East Journal, in several websites into which he has managed to implant his review, and now in your blog - saying things like "the book must be treated with caution," which he may think are subtle, but are well-known among academics (I am not one, although I publish at Oxford and Yale) as a lethal weapon for minimizing a colleague's work. I have experienced Stewart's ire at my doing things he would have wanted to do more than once over the years. One example will suffice. In 1979, I managed to get rare permission from St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai to enter their library, where I found ledgers in Arabic that they had kept for centuries recording their various dealings with the neighboring tribes. On the basis of this material, I wrote an article, "Dating the Arrival of the Bedouin Tribes in Sinai and the Negev," which I published in The Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient (28/1, 1983). Unbeknown to me, Stewart found some 1950s' microfilms of the same materials in the Library of Congress and apparently was planning to write about them. Seeing that I had already done that, however, he felt compelled to write an article for the same journal disparaging my use of the materials. Discerning his extrinsic intention, however, the editors gave me the right of reply, in which I was able to refute almost all his points. Both pieces appeared in JESHO in 1991 (34/1, pp. 97-115) and demonstrate how Stewart operates. His article, like his current campaign to discredit my book on Bedouin Law, proved unfounded and scientifically unwarranted. If you would like me to show the methods he used in his MEJ review to disparage my book on Bedouin Law, I shall be happy to do so.