Call for Papers: International Conference on Non-State Legal Practices in India

Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, 5-7 December 2015

Deadline for submission of Titles and Abstracts:       15th May 2015
Deadline for submission of Papers:                           15th Oct. 2015

The interdisciplinary conference focusses on non-state legal practices in India from the perspectives of legal anthropology and sociology of law, political science and legal studies, literature and culture studies. By bringing together eminent scholars and representatives from NGOs and media, the conference seeks to bridge the gap between academia, civil society, and popular media on this important issue.

The conference raises questions about the status of traditional, customary, and contemporary informal legal practices in the context of the modern Indian state. From a modern perspective, informal legal practices have no legitimate status. They are either rendered invisible by the conventional stage theory of the genesis of modern society or, if they can’t be denied, they are regarded as remnants of another age to be done away with once modernity is taking full shape. Societies with such apparent non-synchronies are therefore regarded as “developing societies”, as having not yet fully arrived in modernity and as threatening to “fall behind” the normalized standard of Western modernity.

According to this view, dominant in policy and development discourses all over the world, a fully modern society contains no remnants of its foregoing stages. The received narrative of modernity presupposes a fixed sequence of stages to be lived through for any society to arrive in the ‘now’. These include stages such as tribal or lineage society, small chieftains, kingdoms, empires, the early modern state and finally the fully modern constitutional and democratic state. In the European experience, this sequence is marked by the near complete erasure of each stage by its successor stage. Thus with the arrival of the feudal order, tribal society was nearly completely overcome in Europe and the early modern absolutist state nearly completely displaced medieval feudalism. This process is often seen as a process of rationalization and secularization where an earlier amalgam consisting of different measures of ethos, law, politics and the sacred, slowly crystallizes out into autonomous spheres of ethics, law, politics and religion.

Today it is widely accepted among anthropologist and social scientists that this narrative hardly holds true even of the West, but even less of other parts of the world. Non-European societies did not share, for example, the deeply disturbing experience of decades of religions civil war, which in parts of Germany has seen up to two thirds of the population perish in armed conflict, starvation or plague. With Universalist overtones this is referred to in narratives of modernity as the breakdown of the pre-modern sacred order and it is said to have given rise, first, to rational natural law and then to democratic constitutional law, both thoroughly divorced from the sacred traditions that had informed legal practice in earlier ages. Such experience of complete breakdown of an erstwhile sacred order is not shared by much of the world outside Europe. In India in particular, different types of legal practice, traditional and modern, customary and constitutional, differential and unified, run in parallel streams, none completely suffusing the other.

There are merits and demerits to all of them. Modern law has not prevented Western nations to commit the greatest atrocities and give them the appearance of legality. Likewise traditional and modern legal practice in India has allowed atrocities against discriminated genders and communities to pass of as ‘unobjectionable’ from the standpoint of law. While vulnerable minorities set great hopes in the egalitarian and emancipatory spirit of modern law, the actual practice of bracketing constitutional equality in the case of citizens regarded as non-equal by traditional standards has led some to dismiss modern law altogether. There are spectacular examples of miscarriage of justice where the bracketing of constitutionally guaranteed equal dignity was a cause of great injustice. In a more quotidian perspective, however, reservations against state and law can also be seen as an indicator of a thriving lifeworld that resists all attempts at ‘colonization’ by the modern state. It reveals how India’s lifeworlds still retain an astounding capacity for self-organisation outside the paradigm of state and state-law. The conference critically looks at non-state legal practice, without however dismissing it out of hand as a thing to be overcome by an uncritically idealised modernity, but something to be engaged with on a par with the real-existing practice of the modern state.

We invite contributions from the fields of law, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, religious studies, literary criticism, culture studies, psychology, political science or any other related field. The following sub-themes shall be explored in detail:

  • Customary Law in Tribal Society
  • Sacred Law in Small Chieftains
  • Non-State Legal Practices and Political Society
  • Traditional Legal Practice as Revealed in Religious Rituals and Traditions
  • Interferences of Parallel Legal Practice in Official Courts
  • Theoretical Reflections
  • Postcolonial Legality
  • India’s Alternative Legal Modernity
  • Contemporary Legal Philosophy and Customary Law

We invite 3,000-word papers (excluding footnotes) that critically examine any of these topics (or a similar topic suggested by you). Submissions must be made electronically to The last date for submissions is 15th October 2014.

If interested, please send a provisional title and an abstract by 15th May 2015.

Dr. Michael Dusche

Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities
Manipal University
Manipal – 576 104, India
Phone: +91-820-292-3584


One response to “Call for Papers: International Conference on Non-State Legal Practices in India

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s