Justice Made to Measure

A long-term project of mine (which was mentioned briefly in the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Report 2014 - 2016) is a monograph, provisionally titled Justice Made to Measure. It comprises a number of analyses, based on detailed study of the case law developed over the past 30 years across Europe, that show whether and to what extent in-depth anthropological analysis can help provide a more nuanced and contextualized understanding of practices related to a person’s life cycle that are often controversial in legal terms (male circumcision, child marriage, polygamy, alternative dispute resolution, etc.). The underlying motivation comes from many years of study of issues related to accommodation of religious and cultural diversity under state law in the context of contemporary European societies, and the striking absence of anthropological literacy on part of decision makers when it comes to granting – or rejecting – claims for recognition of institutions, practices, traditions, concepts, beliefs, or sensibilities that are not familiar to them. I do not pretend that anthropology has all the answers; rather, my ambition is to show the depth of knowledge accumulated in a discipline that is rarely cited in legal work when it comes to addressing such issues and what is to be gained from taking an interest in that sophisticated knowledge. My inspiration for this project comes from the pioneering work of the late British scholar Sebastian Poulter, Ethnic Minority Customs, English Law and Human Rights.[1] My own study is far less exhaustive, being more concerned with the question of what is to be gained from anthropological scholarship in seeking justice in individual cases, hence the title Justice Made to Measure. The research that goes into this kind of study draws on two types of sources: legal sources (for the most part case law) and anthropological literature. The background research I have conducted for this study was the inspiration for the CUREDI project presented in Part II of this report. It is my profound conviction that in future lawyers and anthropologists will ever more frequently face questions of accommodation of cultural diversity[2], and it is my hope that they will benefit from the work we will have done during my period at the MPI Halle.

[1] S Poulter, Ethnicity, Law, and Human Rights: The English Experience (Oxford University Press 1999); S Poulter, English Law and Ethnic Minority Customs (Butterworth-Heinemann 1986).

[2] I already use that argument in a contribution I recently wrote together with Larissa Vetters: M.-C. Foblets & L. Vetters, "The Pluralization of European Societies and the Role of the Judiciary" in Luis Efrén Rios Vega, Ilenia Ruggiu and Irene Spigno (eds): Justice and Culture. Theory and Practice Concerning the Use of Culture in the Courtrooms. Napoli: Editoriale Scientifica, p. 77-99 (forthc. 2020)



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