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O’Brien, Margaret (2019) Law, Culture, and Community at the Borders of the state. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis explores the conditions under which the immediate and local narratives of communities might produce a culture of resistance. Focussing primarily on research with the Chakma people of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), it recounts the complex role of legal pluralism in sustaining communities as political units in the postcolonial state, exploring how law’s framing narratives produce different iterations of communitarian legal practice ostensibly within the same postcolonial legal form. This exploration uses a conceptual frame of ‘critical communitarianism’, which draws specific attention to the parallels between political identity and legal culture, and community and legal mobilisation within a legally plural setting. Using legal culture and mobilisation as analytical tools, this thesis unpacks the relationship between law, power and resistance in a context where community and state are inherently unstable. In the post-conflict CHT, it appears that the processes of colonisation and de-colonisation have caused the boundaries and ideations of community to be highly mutable and contested, yet these very instabilities appear to diffuse power more equally across the community, and subvert the colonial legacy of feudal hierarchies. To further illustrate this hypothesis, the brief contrast drawn between the CHT and an Indian Chakma community demonstrates how a rigid system of constitutional recognition under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution has an ossifying effect on communitarian law; recognition reinforces an elderly and conservative customary elite and ultimately pushes communitarian legal practice to the margins of community. The thesis concludes that conditions of crisis appear to diffuse power across communities, causing dynamic and resistant interpretations of law and culture to emerge from within non-state communities.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Brenna Bhandar
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2020 08:40

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