Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Anthropology of Law

Anthropologists distinguish between law and custom but have shown that in operation there is little difference between the two concepts.

Custom reinforces normative rules-forms of action and behaviour that ought to be observed.But there are legal institutions for mediating in disputes and considering breaches of normative rules and customary sanctions  or punishment for wrong doings.

Paul Bohannan in Law and Welfare ( 1967) distinguished law from custom and rules of condust as being doubly institutionalized meaning that law reinstitutionalizes customs or rules derived from other institutions.

Law is a custom that has been restated in order to make it amenable to the activities of the legal institutions.

American anthropologist E Adamson Hoebel suggested in The Law of Primitive Man (1954) that law has three principles

The legitimate use of force to ensure correct behaviour and punish wrongdoing.

The allocation of power to individuals to use coercion.

Respect for tradition as against whim.Enforcement must be based on the existence of known rules whether customs or statutes.

Different mechanisms exist for resolving disputes.Avoidance occurs in hunter-gatherer societies.Social space is great and formal mechanism or control are relatively underdeveloped.

Divination or ordeals can be used to discover the sources of conflict and agression between people.

Mediation,negotiation,arbitration and adjudication lead to variety of arrangements that go beyond settling conflict or contention.They deal with resolving disputes a specific incident of contention and may involve settling compensation or operating customary sanctions.

There may be specific,often ritualized,groups invested with authority to arbitrate and adjudicate disputes or disputes may be dealt with by formally constituted courts.

Source: Anthropology by Merryl Wyn Davies and Piero

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