Publication details

Juristes, Faiseurs d'État, Politique africaine, 138

Book (ed.)

Author(s): Dezalay, Sara
Year of publication: 2015

Abstract: Recent decades have witnessed a striking increase in the mobilizations of law in contemporary African politics. Driven by internal political developments and external dynamics, the democratic turn and the promotion of “civil society” have contributed to the transformation of politics to the extent that the law has become an increasingly important resource in political and social struggles, notably with the multiplication of law-oriented non-governmental organisations (Comaroff & Comaroff 2006). However, predominant accounts of this post-Cold war “turn to law” tend to disconnect these global transformations both from the domestic politics and the longer historical processes of state formation in which they are embedded. Moreover, the roles played by lawyers in these processes – and the correlate transformation of legal professions – remain, largely, a blind spot. Indeed, the wealth of scholarship on legal professions in Europe, North America, Latin America and more recently South- East Asia, contrasts with the dearth of research on lawyers on the African continent and their contributions to the formation of the state and these unfolding transformations (with few exceptions: Gobe, 2013; Halliday, Karpik and Feeley 2012). This thematic issue of Politique africaine aims at shedding light on the roles played by legal professions in processes of state formation and contemporary transformations of politics in Africa. Two dimensions seem of particular relevance. It is, on the one hand, the historicity of legal professions and particularly the impact of colonial legacies on their structuration. Underlying, on the other hand, the roles of legal professions in the formation of the state and current transformations of politics involves studying them in light of two dynamics: that of the national spaces of power – political, social, economic – to which they are articulated, as well as current processes of legal globalization, such as the promotion of the rule of law or international criminal prosecutions, that contribute to the transformation of legal practices and institutions and their relations to politics. The recent surge of interest in law and empires has underlined the specificities of, and variations in, colonial legal systems in African settings (e.g. Ibhawoh 2013; Benton 2002; 2013). It has also prompted interrogations as to the ways the legacies of colonial rule continue to shape legal systems, legal professions and the relations between lawyers and the state. The mobilization of law and legal institutions for political and violent purposes in some contexts underlines in particular the impact of such legacies on the articulation between law and politics and furthermore on the relations between lawyers and the state. These practices of “lawfare” (Comaroff, 2001) underscore in particular the specific stakes of legal professionalization and autonomy in contexts of authoritarianism and/orinstitutional collapse. On the other hand, current dynamics of legal globalization – including the growth of international criminal tribunals and the criminalization of state and armed violence – are contributing to opening multiple legal and judicial avenues of contention (Sikkink 2011). How are these dynamics of legal globalization articulated with colonial legacies (Dezalay & Garth, 2010) and with what impact on the role of lawyers in these processes? Are these dynamics, in turn, affected by the development of African countries as more or less “extraverted” societies (Bayart, 2000)? This issue aims at exploring such questions by focusing on lawyers and legal professionals and their varied roles as legal intermediaries, transnational brokers and moral entrepreneurs, among others. It is driven by the objective of contributing to a comparative study of legal professions in Africa by drawing on a range of disciplinary approaches, including law, history, anthropology, political sociology or international relations. Given the emphasis on former British colonies in the existing literature, studies focusing on former French, Portuguese and Belgian colonies, among others, would be particularly timely. We would also welcome a diverse range of methodologies and scales of analysis, including country or institutional case studies or research tracking the transnational diffusion of legal ideas, practices, agents and institutions.

Keywords: African politics; sociology of law; lawyers; law and legal institutions; legal history

Subject(s): sociology

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