Working Paper 206

The Hallowed Halls of Justice: the poetics and politics of a Taiwan indigenous court

J. Christopher Upton

Abteilung ‚Recht & Ethnologie’

Jahr der Veröffentlichung


Working Paper 206

Courts of law and the sense of social order they promise carry us back and forth between sweeping narratives of law and order at a national scale and the particular, tangible materialities of specific actors involved in specific disputes. This paper considers an indigenous land dispute in the newly established ad hoc Chamber of Indigenous Courts in the District Court in Hualien, Taiwan (ROC), as an ethnographic starting point for considering courts of law from an infrastructural perspective. This perspective addresses court institutions as part of a system enabling circulation of goods, knowledge, meanings, people, and power, creating a conceptual space to examine the shifting networks of assemblages of nonhuman and human actors within the judicial system. Adopting an infrastructural approach directs attention to the formal rationalities underlying infrastructures and the individual aesthetic experiences in which they are entangled. Field research in the ad hoc Chamber of Indigenous Courts in Hualien shows how materiality, material practice, flows, perspectives, and mobility were dimensions of court infrastructure through which the Taiwan state was continually reconstituted and experienced by those interacting with courts institutions, but also ultimately undone through the instability and illegibility of the state’s own documents, practices, and structures.

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