Law and Inequalities

The Political and Legal Anthropology Review celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Law and Society Association (LSA) by dedicating its 2014 virtual issue to the LSA annual meeting themeLaw and Inequalities – Global and Local. Recognizing that law and inequalities affect individuals, groups, nations, and transnational networks, this issue revisits enduring socio-legal concerns by focusing on “the role of law and legal institutions in sustaining, creating, interrogating, and ameliorating inequalities.” The 2014 LSA conference frames such concerns around three questions:

• How can Law and Society scholarship contribute to unearthing and understanding inequalities?
• How can Law and Society scholarship contribute to the critical interrogation of discourses of equality and inequality and help to reveal what is at stake in these concepts?
• What impact can we expect these scholarly contributions to have on the persistence of these inequalities and on public discourse about them?

The nine articles and four postscripts that comprise this virtual issue respond to these questions, featuring research conducted across the globe. In doing so, the collection of essays offers more than an anthropological commemoration of the 50th anniversary of LSA; it captures unique anthropological insights into an array of inequalities that intersect with and underpin law and society. Moreover, this virtual issue evidences the capacity of ethnographic inquiry to provide important empirical understandings of both the local and the global, as well as the interplay between them.



Laura Jeffery and Nicole Newendorp reflect on events that have transpired since their articles’ publication in the Political and Legal Anthropology Review.
• Robert Castro and Jonah Rubin discuss and contextualize their articles in the Political and Legal Anthropology Review, addressing how their research has since developed.
• Digital Editorial Fellow Sean Mallin interviews Susan Bibler Coutin and Sally Engle Merry about persisting and emergent concerns related to law and inequality in a post-LSA conference interview.



Historical Narrative and Legal Evidence: Judging Chagossians’ High Court Testimonies
Laura Jeffery in Volume 29 Issue 2. November 2006

This article interrogates the production of legal evidence in a compensation case brought unsuccessfully against the U.K. government by displaced Chagos islanders. It argues that processes of transcription and translation concealed the deployment in Chagossian oral traditions of rhetorical devices such as collective narrative and standardized history, hampering their legal team’s attempt to reformulate their narratives into individual eyewitness evidence.

Contesting “Law and Order”: Immigrants’ Encounters with “Rule of Law” in Postcolonial Hong Kong

Nicole Newendorp in Volume 34 Issue 1. May 2011

This article investigates the “rule of law” as a sociocultural concept that has concrete effects on the lives of newly arrived Chinese mainland immigrants in postcolonial Hong Kong. It highlights a paradox: how the “rule of law”—seen as a key symbol of freedom—acted as a vehicle of oppression, and not just belonging, for recently arrived immigrants from mainland China. 


Plying the Liberty Trade: Law, Empire-Building, and the Enforcement of Antislavery Scriptures in the Reconstruction of New Mexico
Robert Castro in Volume 30 Issue 1. May 2007

This article explores federal efforts to free Indian-Mestizo captives in New Mexico during the Reconstruction Era. It demonstrates how the enforcement of government antislavery law within a preexisting colonial setting, while furthering American rights and ideals, did so in multiple and contradictory ways. 


Adjudicating the Salvadoran Civil War: Expectations of the Law in Romagoza
Jonah Rubin in Volume 31 Issue 2. November 2008

This article analyzes the experiences of Neris Gonzalez, one of the three Salvadoran plaintiffs who brought a successful lawsuit against the former heads of the Salvadoran military for the torture she suffered in 1979. It focuses on the specific transformations that political and historical disputes undergo as they are subsumed into the formal rules of U.S. tort litigation.


From Wards to Citizens: Indigenous Rights and Citizenship in Malaysia
Rusaslina Idrus in Volume 33 Issue 1. May 2009

This article explores how indigenous peoples in Malaysia are turning to the legal system to claim property rights, using lawsuits to do so. It suggests that drawing on multiple kinds of positioning and demanding that the state fulfill an obligation to them, the Orang Asli are using the legal space to reconfigure and redefine their relationship to the Malaysian State.


You’ll Get Your Day in Court: Judging Delinquent Youth at the Paris Palace of Justice
Susan Terrio in Volume 26 Issue 2. November 2003

This article explores greater demands were being placed on the justice system at a time of scarce resources, overloaded dockets, more public order arrests, and a huge influx of illegal unaccompanied children, primarily from Romania, involved in criminal activity, resuscitated acrimonious debates on the nature and causes of delinquency as well as the relative merits of punishment versus rehabilitation. 


“In Our Own Defense”: Rights and Resistance in Chiapas
Shannon Speed and Alvaro Reyes in Volume 25 Issue 1. May 2002

This article explores attempts by the Chiapas Community Human Rights Defenders Network to access the judicial system for those usually excluded from it, arguing that because of its particular structure and relationship to the communities it serves, the Network is in fact inherently subversive to the forms of sovereign power and rule that “the law” serves to uphold. 


A Quest for Justice in Cuzco, Peru: Race and Evidence in the Case of Mercedes Ccorimanya Lavilla
Laura Bunt in Volume 31 Issue 2. November 2008

This article draws on the life of Mercedes Corimanya Lavilla to render a portrait of the pursuit of justice in Cuzco, revealing how courts of law can be key sites in the production and negotiation of racial and gender taxonomies. It reconstructs how Mercedes employed the languages of race to distance herself from her own indigeneity, as well as that of her alleged attackers.


Gender, Power, and Difference: Reconfiguring Law from Bakwena Women’s Perspectives
Anne Griffiths in Volume 23 Issue 2. November 2000

This article draws on Bakwena narratives which examine the relationship between law and women’s experiences of the gendered world in which they have to negotiate their status and on which claims to property and resources in family life are based. It shows how different narrative themes are integrated through a discussion of everyday life, derived from women’s and men’s life histories and narratives of dispute.