Political and Legal Anthropology

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Mathijs Pelkmans OLD 5.08 and Dr Harry Walker OLD 5.06B


This course is compulsory on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available on the Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Cape Town), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Fudan), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Melbourne), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Tokyo) and LLB in Laws. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The anthropological analysis of political and legal institutions as revealed in relevant theoretical debates and with reference to selected ethnography. The development of political and legal anthropology and their key concepts including forms of authority; forms of knowledge and power; political competition and conflict; colonial transformation of indigenous norms; writing legal ethnography of the 'other'; folk concepts of justice; the theory of legal pluralism; accommodation of religious practices in secular laws of European states.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

The contact hours listed above are the minimum expected. This course has a reading week in Week 6 of MT and LT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the classes, and to submit one essay in the MT and one mock exam question in the LT to their class teacher on which they will receive formative feedback.

Indicative reading

Appadurai, A, 2006, Fear of small numbers: an essay on the geography of anger; Blok, A, 1988, The Mafia of a Sicilian Village 1860-1960: a study of violent peasant entrepreneurs; Bryant, R, & Reeves, M, 2021, The Everyday Lives of Sovereignty; Clastres, P, 1987, Society against the state: essays in political anthropology; Mbembe, A, 2001, On the Postcolony; Navaro, Y, 2021, The make-believe space: affective geography in a postwar polity. Tuckett, A, 2018, Rules, Paper, Status: Migrants and Precarious Bureaucracy in Contemporary Italy; 

Moore, S F, 1978, Law as Process; Malinowski, B, 1916, Crime and Custom in Savage Society; Bohannan, P, 1957, Justice and Judgement among the Tiv; Comaroff J and Roberts S, 1981, Rules and Processes. Detailed reading lists are provided at the beginning of the course.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2021/22: 88

Average class size 2021/22: 15

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

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