Area of specialization: Legal anthropology

Law in Protest: Transnational Struggles for Corporate Liability

Prof. Julia Eckert, Angela Lindt M.A., Dr. des. Laura Affolter

Negative impacts on the environment and on the livelihood of local populations caused by transnational corporations (TNCs) operating in the so-called Global South have become a politically contested issue. Holding the companies or their employees legally liable has often been difficult because of jurisdictional or governance obstacles. However, despite the difficult legal situation, there have been growing attempts worldwide to bring TNCs to court for violations of human rights or for serious environmental damages. Local protest groups make use of law as an instrument to legitimize their claims and to gain international support for their struggles. The project “Law in Protest: Transnational Struggles for Corporate Liability” enquires into how advocacy organisations and local plaintiffs influence each other with respect to normative evaluation, political goals and litigation strategies. It examines the normative change born from litigation processes both among local plaintiffs and in the legal norms adopted to litigate against TNCs. By conducting empirical ethnographic research on the work of lawyers and human rights activists in different settings and places, the overarching aim of the project is to find out whether the strategic application of national law leads to normative - legal as well as social - change.


Subproject A: Corporate Liability from Below: Struggles for Rights, Justice and Responsibility in Peru’s Mining Regions (Angela Lindt)

The project focuses on social conflicts in Peru’s mining regions and on the prospects of using legal norms to hold transnational corporations accountable for human rights violations. Based on ethnographic research in the region of Cajamarca and in Lima, the project examines the social processes underlying these court cases and analyses the role of strategic litigation and the cooperation with national and international NGOs.


Subproject B: Using the Constitution against the State: Legal Struggles against Mining in Ecuador (Laura Affolter)

The research project analyses the legal struggles against a copper mining project in the Ecuadorian Íntag valley. By dealing with different actors involved in these struggles, it looks at what their agendas are, how their claims are phrased in terms of law and through what legal (or non-legal) pathways they are formulated. Conceptually, the project is concerned with how through the (strategic) employment of specific legal mechanisms, law is constantly being made and transformed. It pays particular attention to how the constitutional “rights of nature” are mobilised.

The emergence of global tax payers: the (re-)making of international business tax law

Prof. Julia Eckert, Dr. des. Johanna Mugler

This ethnographic research project explores the emergence of global tax norms and the negotiation and making of international tax law. By studying the actors and the processes through which international tax law develops, this project contributes to the understanding of the making and change of these international laws and global norms. More

Creeping Death. Asbestos Victims and the Allocation of Moral and Legal Responsibility in the Aftermath of an Industrial Disaster

David Loher PhD

The allocation of responsibility is a key operation in jurisdiction, as it is an important feature of moral reasoning. The research project Creeping Death. Asbestos Victims and the Allocation of Moral and Legal Responsibilities in the Aftermath of an Industrial Disaster examines how responsibility for the consequences of asbestos-related diseases and the pollution of the environment is negotiated in the courtroom and beyond. It asks how moral and legal responsibility are intertwined. The case study focuses on the social and legal struggles around the former Eternit factory in Casale Monferrato (Piedmont, Italy) and analyses how notions of responsibility have changed over the years. In particular, the research project is interested in the question how uneven temporalities and space shape the allocation of moral and legal responsibility. With this approach, it contributes to the ongoing debate on corporate responsibility in contemporary world society.

Governing the Central Mediterranean: complicity and control at the EU’s external border(s) (provisional title)

Kiri Santer, M.A.
This PhD project examines recent transformations in governance of the Central Mediterranean and the EU’s project of border externalisation in Libya. It examines the emergence of the Libyan Coast Guard as a central political actor and the formation of a new Search and Rescue Region under Libya’s coordination. Based on a multi-sited and mixed-method approach, this project takes place between Tunisia, Brussels and Rome and probes the conditions which have enabled this shift in governance to take place. Centrally, this project is interested in building upon theories of extraterritorial responsibility and complicity, from a socio-legal perspective.


Aiding and abetting: juridifiying transnational liability

Prof. Julia Eckert

The attribution of responsibility in world society is increasingly a field of contestation. On the one hand, the perception of causal and moral links reaching far in space and time are ever more explicitly pronounced; on the other hand, the very complexity of these links often engenders a fragmentation of responsibility both in law as well as in moral commitment. Current institutions of responsibility in law appear to abstract from enabling contexts, resulting in appeals to a global community of concern without corresponding obligatory commitments. Focussing on the use of „aiding and abetting“ in strategic litigation as well as jurisdiction, I trace the contestations over global responsibility and liability.

Doing Credibility; The Construction of Credibility in Swiss Asylum Procedures

Prof. Julia Eckert, Laura Affolter, Johanna Fuchs, Raphaël Rey

In deciding whether asylum seekers are granted asylum or not, immigration officers and judges in Switzerland as elsewhere must not only decide whether an asylum seeker fits the definition of a refugee. They must also assess the credibility of the asylum seeker’s statements. It is precisely this assessment and decision-making process Johanna Fuchs, Laura Affolter and Raphaël Rey analyse in this project. The researchers focus on four of the main actors involved in asylum procedures: asylum seekers, legal advisors, officers working for the State Secretariat for Migration as well as judges and clerks in the Federal Administrative Court. By looking at these different actors the project examines how credibility and the lack of credibility are defined and and how credibility is negotiated in the decision-making process.

Link to the Project

Law and order in urban India

Prof. Julia Eckert

Studying everyday policing in Mumbai, I analyses police interpretations of law and the multifaceted social, economic and political relations that such interpretation is embedded in. I thereby trace the negotiations of rights, norms of justice and authority that occur in everyday interactions between citizens and state officials, as well as among state officials themselves. I am particularly interested in how security legislation has come to define the limits of legitimate political articulation.

The Moral Economy of Assam Tea Production

Anna-Lena Wolf, M.A.

The current PhD project is an ethnography on the moral economy of tea production on tea plantations in Assam. I am analysing how various entangled and contradictory moral frameworks – underlying the plantation economy of Assam tea – are conceived of, embodied, negotiated and transformed ‘…to understand the everyday-grounded logics of macro-economic (and political) processes…’ (Palomera & Vetta 2016: 428). I am furthermore interested in how structural inequalities are generated within/by the tea plantation economy in Assam and how they are maintained or challenged, for example, by forms of state regulation, moral sentiments or forms of protest.

How Does Border "Occur"? The Deterritorialised European Border Regime and Migrants' Transnational Social Spaces

Prof. Dr. Julia Eckert, Simon Affolter, M.A., David Loher, M.A., Simone Marti, lic.rer.soz.