Accepted Paper:

Evidence gathering: Knowing in law and anthropology   

Author:

Sonal Makhija (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

Anthropology has been subjected to criticism for its epistemological and methodological approach in gathering evidence, as opposed to law that has been hailed for its objective mechanism of marshalling evidence. Drawing on 8 months of fieldwork in a court in Mumbai I question how lawyers know.

Paper long abstract:

How do anthropologists know? How do they gather ethnographic evidence to bolster the arguments they make? Anthropology has been subjected to criticism for its epistemological and methodological approach in gathering evidence, as opposed to law, that has been hailed for its accurate, rational and objective fact-finding mechanism of marshalling evidence. Drawing on eight months of ethnographic fieldwork in a court in Northern Mumbai, I question the objective knowledge of how do lawyers know or recognize credible evidence? Lawyers often claim to have exclusive insight and access into legal knowledge. The epistemic practice of distinguishing true cases from false or identifying 'real' victims from false is something that emerged recurrently in my conversations with lawyers. In my paper I will underscore and question the so-called objective method of distinguishing and sifting through evidence by lawyers in domestic violence cases. I argue that the epistemic and methodological practice of gathering evidence in anthropology, where anthropologists observe 'patterns' is not any different from how lawyers know. While sophisticated forensic evidence is available to lawyers today, in day-to-day mundane cases lawyers still rely on their subjective experience of 'seeing' and 'knowing' credible evidence.

Panel P063
Evidence in question: anthropological authority and legal judgment [Anthropology of Law and Rights]