A Case of Insult

Emotion, Law, and Witchcraft Accusations in a Botswana Village Customary Court

in Social Analysis
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Pnina Werbner Professor, Keele University, UK p.werbner@keele.ac.uk

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Richard Werbner Professor, University of Manchester, UK richard.werbner@manchester.ac.uk

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Abstract

Legal anthropologists have been latecomers in the debate surrounding law and emotion, a movement responding to the notion that the law is ‘imbued with emotion’. As in the US and Europe, in Botswana cases of public insults are emotionally charged, and this is particularly so in witchcraft insult hearings. Akin to hate crimes, these insults threaten public peace, kinship amity, and decency. Members of a customary court mobilize an elaborate moral lexicon from everyday life in order not simply to ascertain the forensic facts, but to persuade offenders to regain their rational good sense, reach a self-conscious emotional balance, and recover spiritual calmness. The procedure culminates in a dialogue intended to restore public peace and to elicit an apology or show of regret from defendants and forgiveness from insulted plaintiffs.

Contributor Notes

Pnina Werbner is Professor Emerita of Social Anthropology, Keele University, author of The Manchester Migration Trilogy: The Migration Process (1990–2002), Imagined Diasporas among Manchester Muslims (2002), Pilgrims of Love (2003), and The Making of an African Working Class (2014) on trade unions in Botswana. She is the editor of several theoretical collections on hybridity, cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, migration, and citizenship. Her recent work has focused on changes in village customary law in Botswana. E-mail: p.werbner@keele.ac.uk

Richard Werbner is Emeritus Professor in African Anthropology, Honorary Research Professor in Visual Anthropology, the University of Manchester, and sometime Glaxo-Smith Kline Senior Fellow (National Humanities Center), Overseas Professor (National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka), and Senior Fellow (Smithsonian Institution). His first fieldwork was among Winnebago Indians. His extensive fieldwork in Zimbabwe and Botswana was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Hayter Fund of the University of Manchester, the Nuffield Foundation, the International Centre for Contemporary Cultural Research and the British Academy Leverhulme Small Grant. His most recent books are Divination's Grasp (2015) and Anthropology after Gluckman (forthcoming, Manchester University Press). E-mail: richard.werbner@manchester.ac.uk

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