Legal anthropology studies the social meaning and importance of law. It deals with how law is created, how law sustains and changes other social institutions and how law structures social behaviours. At the same time, it raises the question of how law itself is socially constructed. This dual way of looking at the law, as both shaped by society and shaping society, is fundamental to the perspective of legal anthropology.
In the early 20th century, questions of social control and integration were key subjects for research within legal anthropology. Later, these were superseded by an interest in conflict and dispute resolution. Already during colonial rule, questions of how conflicts in legal norms shape multiple legal systems (legal pluralism) were raised. With the globalisation of law, these issues are gaining new significance. When researchers observe the processes by which legal norms become transnational, it is first a question of studying the normative changes that are initiated as a result of the “import” or “export” of law – be they human rights, specific types of ownership law, or the standards for legal procedure. Second, questions about the role of law in cementing or changing social inequality, the conditions in which legal means can be used to change social order, and the ambivalent relationship between law and power are increasingly attracting interest.
Legal anthropology constitutes a central focus in the master program ATS.