Why Anthropology Doesn’t Matter Much to Law

in Journal of Legal Anthropology
Michael G. Peletz Emory University mpeletz@emory.edu

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Jeremy Kingsley and Kari Telle’s provocation article raises several important issues. The thrust of their argument as I understand it is that anthropology does not matter much to the field of law in many parts of the world. They are quick to point out, however, that this is a relative point and that their comparative frame takes as its point of departure the much greater degree of intellectual engagement that obtains between schools of medicine and public health on the one hand and the field of anthropology on the other. I concur with their overall argument but will phrase it in slightly different terms: despite the robust collaborations that sometimes involve legal scholars and anthropologists (e.g. in legal clinics at New York University and elsewhere; see Merry, this issue), faculty in law schools are much less likely to embrace the work of anthropologists than are their colleagues who specialise in medicine and public health. In this brief comment, I offer tentative hypotheses as to why this situation exists in the North American context. I approach the relevant issues from a historical perspective, focusing on hierarchies of legitimacy and prestige, shifts in both academia and the job market for anthropologists, and the rise of neoliberal doctrines in academia and beyond.

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