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Laboratories of statehood: legal intervention in colonial Africa and today

Humphreys, Stephen (2012) Laboratories of statehood: legal intervention in colonial Africa and today. Modern Law Review, 75 (4). pp. 475-510. ISSN 0026-7961

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Identification Number: 10.1111/j.1468-2230.2012.00912.x


The immense body of contemporary work aimed at ‘promoting the rule of law’ is often accused of ‘neo-imperialism’. Yet, despite many points of contiguity between past and present legal interventions, the charge is overbroad and rarely illuminating. This article attempts to move beyond polemic to track concrete historical and structural forerunners of today's rule of law work. Focusing mainly (though not exclusively) on late imperial British endeavours, it traces colonial legal interventions over time, the techniques adopted (and rejected), the shifting normative bases of legitimacy, and moments of strategic recalibration in the face of resistance. Three broad attitudes towards law across the period are (provisionally) characterised as ‘regulative’, ‘constitutive’ and ‘institutive’ moments. In each phase, the Powers treat colonial territories as laboratories of statehood, within which experiments are conducted to locate the optimal configuration of law. In conclusion some counterparts to these moments in today's ‘rule of law’ activities are identified.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2012 The Author
Divisions: Law
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
K Law > K Law (General)
Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2012 14:27
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:27

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