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A Taste for Law: Rule-Making in Kabylia (Algeria)

  • Judith Scheele (a1)

There has recently been an upsurge in anthropologists' interest in law, with North Africa and the Middle East taking a prominent position. One of the foci is the coexistence of multiple sets of legal practices, and the ways in which people negotiate between different legal “systems.” This emphasis closely mirrors the more general shift in anthropology from “discourse” to “practice,” and shares both its strengths and weaknesses. Among the latter is that the resulting emphasis on “legal pluralism” (Griffith 1986) runs the danger of eroding the concept of law as such, subsuming it within more general and all-encompassing notions of “conflict resolution.” Similarly, there is a risk that one of the most striking aspects of legal procedure, namely the value placed on the act of making rules, is being neglected, and the actual content of local law codes and their underlying principles are receiving less attention than they deserve. As a result, “customary law” is more often implicitly defined by what it is not. Here, my aim is not to shift the focus from “practice” to “discourse,” but rather to understand the internal logic of one such set of ‘customs,’ and to consider the act of making law in itself as a special kind of practice (see also Comaroff and Roberts 1981: 15–16).

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P. Dresch 1986. The Significance of the Course Events Take in Segmentary Systems. American Ethnologist 13: 309–24.

J. Goodman 2003. The Proverbial Bourdieu: Habitus and the Politics of Representation in the Ethnography of Kabylia. American Anthropologist 105: 782–93.

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D. Hart 1996. Murder in the Market: Penal Aspects of Berber Customary Law in the Precolonial Moroccan Rif. Islamic Law and Society 3, 3: 343–71.

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J. Luccioni 1984. L'élaboration du dahir berbère de 1930. Revue de l'Occident Musulman et de la Méditerranée 38: 7583.

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S.F. Moore 2001. Certainties Undone: Fifty Turbulent Years of Legal Anthropology. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 7: 346–67.

F. H. Stewart 2006. Customary Law in North Africa and the Arab East. Islamic Law and Society 13, 1: 15.

B. Z. Tamanaha 1993. The Folly of the ‘Social Scientific’ Concept of Legal Pluralism. Journal of Law and Society 20, 2: 192236.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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