A Case of Insult

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

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 Keele University p.werbner@keele.ac.uk
  • 2 University of Manchester richard.werbner@manchester.ac.uk
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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.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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