Chapter 4 Sociology of law and legal anthropology
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This chapter argues that the distinctive contribution of anthropology to legal scholarship stems from its methodology. Long-term immersion in a field site and participant observation allow anthropologists to understand the world from the perspectives of their informants, to uncover meanings, and to take account of diversity. This leads to rich ethnographic description, characterized by detail and nuance. But it also produces theory - and model-building, which are firmly rooted in detailed empirical observation. The result is that anthropologists often question the categories that other legal scholars use to frame and analyse the law and its social roles. They raise new questions about what law is and does. They also use comparison amongst qualitative empirical case studies, allowing the terms of the comparison to arise from the cases, themselves. In these ways, anthropologists not only contribute rich and detailed cast studies to the body of legal scholarship, but they also question familiar assumptions about such issues as the relationship between law and the state, its capacity to regulate social life, its use in the resolution of disputes, and its attraction as a tool to both impose and challenge power, often in unexpected circumstances. They contribute, in these ways, to debates about what law is and does.

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