Head of Project Group (2000-2012)

C.V. | Publications | Current Project

Research Interests
Legal pluralism, dispute management, property, social security, water rights, law and space, human rights, law and development, law and governance, decentralisation, transnational dimensions of law

Research Area(s)
West Sumatra, Moluccas, Nepal, the Netherlands

Antrittsvorlesung an der Universität Leipzig
Antrittsvorlesung an der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg


I grew up in the Netherlands, where I received my education. After finishing my law degree in Amsterdam I moved to Zurich together with Franz von Benda-Beckmann. While preparing for an anthropological study of dispute management in West Sumatra, Indonesia, I worked as an assistant in the sociology of law at the University of Zurich. In 1984 I received my PhD at the University of Nijmegen. In 1977, we moved to the Netherlands, where I first worked at the University of Leiden, then taught for a while in Wageningen, and in 1982 took a position in the anthropology and sociology of law at the Faculty of Law at Erasmus University Rotterdam, where I later received a personal professorship in the anthropology of law in 1998. It was in Rotterdam that I developed my interest in social security. 1985-1986 Franz and I carried out research in the Moluccas on social security under conditions of legal pluralism and we developed larger research programs on social security in Rotterdam and Wageningen. In 1990, I continued my research on issues of social security and emancipation among Moluccan women in the Netherlands. In my collaboration with Wageningen I also developed my interest in law and natural resources, in particular water. Over a period of ten years, Franz and I supervised research on water rights in Nepal. My work on the Dutch Advisory Council of International Affairs stimulated interest in human rights and law and development.
In summer 2000 we moved to the MPI in Halle, which provided us with the wonderful opportunity to develop the field of anthropology of law from a comparative perspective with a group of dedicated legal anthropologists, building on our earlier interests and developing them into new directions. We organized a number of conferences exploring central theoretical issues in the anthropology of law, such as power, mobility, space, transnationalization, and disorder, which culminated in several edited volumes. With the research group we explored transnational dimensions of law, property and social security and religious dimensions of law.

To establish close links and cooperation with the two closest universities, I was appointed as an honorary professor at Leipzig University and at the Martin Luther University in Halle.

The beginning of our work at the MPI coincided with great political change in Indonesia after the fall of the Suharto regime. We decided to take this opportunity to start long term research on the process of decentralization in West Sumatra. We wrote a book on this research, setting the more recent developments in a deeper historical perspective with a focus on the changing relationships among the three major normative orders of the state, Islam, and adat. The book appeared 2013 with CUP, a few months after the untimely decease of Franz. When the new Department Law and Anthropology was established, Franz and I moved to the Netherlands in 2012.

As an associate of MPI I have continued to pursue my academic interests, supervising PhD students and participating in the Max Planck research school REMEP, and in close collaboration with the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law and Governance at Leiden University. Currently I participate in a research group at the ZIF (Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies) in Bielefeld on "Kinship and Politics: Rethinking a conceptual split and its epistemic implications in the Social Sciences".

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