Law and Disorder in the Postcolony
From Keynote Roundtable, Law and Society Association Annual Conference, New Orleans, “Law and Disorder in the Postcolony: Celebrating Ten Years in Print and Practice,” 2016.
Are postcolonies in Africa and elsewhere haunted more by unregulated violence, un/civil warfare, and disorder than are other twenty-first century nation-states? The reflex answer to this question, from critical scholars, conservative intellectuals, and the popular media, is yes. Law and Disorder in the Postcolony argues that the question itself is misplaced: that the predicament of postcolonies arises from their situation in a contemporary global order dominated by new modes of governance, new sorts of empires, new species of wealth – an order that tends to criminalize poverty, race, and social marginality, entraps the global “south” in relations of corruption, and displaces politics into the realms of the market, criminal economies, and the law. But, as these essays show, there is another side to the story. While many postcolonies evince signs of endemic disorder, they also fetishize the law, its ways and means. Even where they are mocked and mimicked, those ways and means are often central to the politics of everyday engagement, to practies of authority and citizenship, to the interaction of states and subjects. New constitutions are repeatedly written, appeals to rights repeatedly made, claims of material and moral inequity repeatedly litigated. How is this to be explained, this coincidence of disorder with a fixation on law? And, more generally, what does it tell us of more general significance about the unfolding history of the nation-state? Law and Disorder in the Postcolony addresses these questions, entering into dialogue with such theorists as Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, and Carl Schmitt. It also demonstrates how postcolonies have become especially critical sites for the production of social theory, not least because they are harbingers of a global future under construction.