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Evidence in question: anthropological authority and legal judgment [Anthropology of Law and Rights] 
Gerhard Anders (University of Edinburgh)
Julia Eckert (University of Bern)
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Start time:
23 July, 2016 at
Time zone: Europe/Rome
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

This panel examines discussions about evidence in legal proceedings. Different legal orders have developed varying concepts of evidence that are linked to notions of personhood, fact, and truth. These raise new questions also for the current debate about evidence in anthropology.

Long Abstract:

This panel examines discussions about evidence in legal proceedings in different cultures and societies. Legal systems around the world have developed sophisticated techniques to distinguish truth from falsehood. In Roman and Common Law, elaborate sets of rules address questions of probability, proof and certainty. Due to the diffusion of European legal systems these concerns are widespread but they are by no means universal. Islamic law, Hindu law and customary law in non-Western societies have developed different techniques to determine truth.

Whilst usually seen as a methodological problem of 'getting it right' the study of evidence raises profound epistemological questions. It is key to understanding law as a way of managing doubt. In legal processes, facts are not found but created. They are presented, connected, rejected or accepted in specific social-cultural settings. Determining the facts is always contingent and shaped by the participants' fundamental assumptions about truth and reality, and by what standard to judge 'reality'. From this perspective, evidence in law is about legal argumentation. Facts only become facts through persuasion and the transformation of disputed fact into proof in social processes.

The insights from legal anthropology speak to the recent debate about evidence and anthropological authority. This debate has tried to find a way forward for a discipline that relies on fieldwork as its principal mode of knowing and rejects scientific and positivist notions of evidence.

We are inviting contributions that question evidence in legal procedures and explore their relation to ethnography as defining practice of anthropology.

Accepted papers:

Session 1