C.V. | Publications | Current Project

Legal pluralism, international law, family religious laws (personal status laws), human rights, legal anthropology, anthropology of expertise, anthropology of the Middle East, women studies, NGOs, development studies, anthropology of (institutional) organization, social order and transformations, morality and value systems, transnationalism

Research Area(s)
Middle East (Israel/Palestine, Lebanon)


Sirin Knecht received BAs in Social Anthropology and Geography from the University of Basel (Switzerland), and holds MA degrees in Geography and the Anthropology of Transnationalism and Statehood from the University of Bern (Switzerland). She conducted four months of fieldwork in preparation for her MA thesis, 'Borders as an instrument of structuring and practices: asymmetries of citizenship on the example of Palestinian marriages in Israel/Palestine in Ramallah'. In May 2015 she joined the Department of Law and Anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology as a PhD Candidate within the International Max Planck Research School on Retaliation, Mediation and Punishment (IMPRS REMEP). Prior to studying for her MA degrees, she was an intern at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), and benefited from further internship experience in international development cooperation with IAMANEH Switzerland, focusing on health care for women and children.

Why Law & Anthropology?

In my view, while law and anthropology can be seen as two clearly distinct academic disciplines, they analyse similar objects, although from opposite angles. Whereas lawyers generally start from a grounded position in codified law and written texts, anthropologists investigate law from the perspective of legal practices and everyday lived experiences. While the latter are more interested in the impacts law has on socio-legal practices and realities, the former observe the deductive application of the law and its practical consequences. This becomes most interesting at the very interface where law and cultural practice come into contact and form complex relationships.

The classic approach of legal anthropology is to start at the grassroots and follow a bottom-up rather than a top-down research approach. Instead of starting with the 'law on the books', I prefer to follow 'law in action' to investigate how law is affecting social realities and to find out what rules and laws shape the behaviour of people's everyday practices. I consider legal anthropology to be a form of applied legal research, in which social systems and legal systems are both seen as embedded in a complex system of culture. One focal point of such research is to follow up on the plurality of legal and other normative systems and examine the modifications and changes in law that occur as a result of people's practice and experience.

On the one hand, anthropological research on law can be seen as a contrasting approach to jurisprudential research because it 'reconstructs' legal and normative orders from the perspective of legal practice. On the other hand, it is also necessary to understand the law as an object of study in jurisprudential terms in order to effectively assess how legal frameworks play out on the ground and how they affect social lives. As I see empirical fieldwork of legal practice and jurisprudential analysis of legal orders as two different approaches tackling the same object, combining law and anthropology opens up perspectives that allow us to come to a better understanding of legal theory and practice.

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