Law before the state: the possibilities and challenges of comparison | Fernanda Pirie

​​Speaker: Fernanda Pirie, Professor of the Anthropology of Law​​​​​​

Location: Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, 42-43 Park End Street OX1 1JD

OrganiserHeather Hamill, Department of Sociology

Attendance Arrangements: Free Event. Open to all members of the University. This week the seminar will be online for all MSc, MPhil and DPhil students with surnames starting with N to Z. MSc, MPhil and DPhil students with surnames starting with A to M, as well as departmental faculty and researchers can join in person. The talk will be preceded by a light lunch at 12.30 for those attending. Contact the Graduate Studies Administrator if you haven't received a Teams meeting link. 

Seminar Description: If the state is taken out of the equation, how and where should we identify laws and legal systems? Do all communities have laws, as the basis for maintaining order and resolving conflict, or is law a distinct technique for doing these things? 

            In this presentation Professor Pirie argues for a focus on legalism, that is, the simple yet powerful technique of creating explicit and general rules, which can be applied to whole classes of people and events. This distinguishes the legal from the non-legal, in a way that allows us to compare widely across time and space. We can trace the origins of law to three separate developments in Mesopotamia, India, and China, where different people were pursuing quite different objectives. Comparisons amongst them highlight the different social dynamics made possible by the use of such laws and legalistic techniques and the goals of justice, duty, and discipline pursued by the early lawmakers. It is the achievement of the modern state and its law, Professor Pirie suggests, to have combined these dynamics into powerful and effective systems, but these forms of law are neither inevitable nor perfect.