Law and Politics

An anthropological history, and research and practice among vulnerable populations

Authored by: Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban

The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Anthropology

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415583954
eBook ISBN: 9781315743950
Adobe ISBN: 9781317590675


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Political and legal anthropology originated in the colonial experiences of Great Britain and the United States and their administrative requirement to have detailed knowledge of the power structures and customary laws of peoples to be governed. Much of the early work created documents mainly for administrative purposes, often commissioned by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs or the US Commissioner of Indian Affairs (Hoebel, 1969: 92). Characteristically, both the American and British ethnographers of law were sympathetic chroniclers of indigenous legal systems and were critical of cases of injustices carried out by ignorant US judges describing them as “kangaroo courts” (Hoebel, 1969: 95). Hoebel argued for increased understanding of ‘native’ world view or traditional systems of politics and advocated a more enlightened view of indigenous law related to policy decisions. Eventually these commissioned studies appeared as unique ethnographies of law. Hoebel’s classic work The Cheyenne Way was a collaboration with a noted jurist (Llewellyn and Hoebel, 1941), a pattern that continued. Likewise the British ethnographers hoped that their studies, as Gluckman wrote for the Lozi, “may help others to understand them, and them to understand themselves” (1955: xxiii).

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