Taking Possession of ‘New’ Countries

Author: Amanda Perry-Kessaris, Professor of Law, Kent Law School

Columbus taking possession

About the image

Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C. 20440 USA. Reproduction no. LC-DIG-pga-02388.
Title: Columbus taking possession of the new country
Creator(s): L. Prang & Co., Boston, USA.
Date: 1893.
Medium: digital file from original chromolithograph print.
Notes: 40802Y U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright by L. Prang & Co., Boston.
Courtesy of Library of Congress LC-DIG-pga-02388
URL: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91481671/

On one level, law and development entails the appropriation—analytical, empirical and normative–of social life by law. Often under cover of the heritage and pageantry of the Rule of Law, we conceptualise, measure and value social life in legal terms, forgetting or even denying the vernaculars that have gone before us, and which often outwit and outlive us.

Overlaying this legal appropriation of social life is a further economic appropriation of the socio-legal. Again under cover of the Rule of Law, we conceptualise, measure and value social-legal life in economic terms, forgetting or even denying the disciplines that have gone before us. And these economic terms themselves bear the scars of battle–the 19th Century Methodenstreit which saw mainstream economics appropriated by more abstract, mathematical and asocial methods.

If we are bombastic enough about it, we can force any indigene—legal, lay, or otherwise—to look on at the law and development spectacle. But we cannot control what they will make of it all.

Perry-Kessaris, A. (2011) ‘Prepare your indicators: Economics imperialism on the shores of law and development’ 7:4 International Journal of Law in Context 401-421.
Perry-Kessaris, A and Xu, T eds. (2013) Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly special issue on Legal Appropriation: Taking of and by law Special Issue.