Spaces of law: territories, boundaries, corridors and beyond

Workshop at CSSSC, Kolkata, 11-13 December 2012

Organisers: Lakshmi Subramanian, Nandini Chatterjee

This event sought to examine the role of space – geographical, imagined and claimed, in shaping ideas and practices of imperial law, and those subject to that law.

The workshop was jointly organised by the Centre for studies in Social sciences, Calcutta and the Research network co-funded by the network and by the Indian Council of Historical Research with supplementary support by CSSSC. It emerged as part of an older conversation around the importance of deepening an emerging historiography on law and empire on the one hand and on space and representation of legal regimes on the other.

The call for papers noted that historiography of imperial law and space has developed along multiple lines. Scholars have noted and contested both the expansive claims to universal law and the imagination of Europe as the sole and exceptional locus of lawfulness. At the same time, there is a growing interest in parallel perceptions of moral right and legality that can be studied through different disciplinary lens and vantage points. It is from this vantage point that the conference organisers prepared a concept note and solicitied papers addressing one or other of the following themes:

How did ‘empire’ and ‘colony’ as spatial entities shape the theory and praxis of law in discrete contexts?
What other spatial and non-spatial categories challenged or endorsed such claims and legal geographies?
How were such spaces inhabited by historical subjects and what practices did these involve?

Originally planned for two days, the workshop spilled over to a third day. The format that was used was to pre-circulate papers to designated discussants who initiated the discussion for the panel. The result was remarkably fruitful; each panel saw vigorous and incisive discussion, which refused to be bound by deadlines! The panels themselves were organised around thematic issues which did not necessarily follow a chronological order but which addressed some of the principal concerns that animated the workshop. In line with the introductory note by Dr. Nandini Chatterjee made clear, the workshop tried to adopt a spatial approach to the study of the regimes of law, its dynamics and its conversations with local pragmatics, custom and practices within the broad framework of empire, colony and post colony. It looked at litigation practices that stretched across unusual geographies, at technologies of power and governmenality in defining and containing regions and borderlands, at the very nature and constitutive elements of law and regulation, at court ethnographies and the workings of Islamic law. A number of broad themes emerged and it was generally felt that the workshop proceedings could make up a coherent volume.