"Am I lying?": suspicion and injustice in a divorce court in Ben Ali's Tunisia
(Webster University Geneva)
Paper short abstract:
Based on an ethnography of a family court, this paper explores how emotional responses to divorce law relate to perceptions of justice and the legitimacy of the law. Mistrust marks legal practice leading to suspicion, uncertainty and anxiety and threatening both justice and the law's legitimacy.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores how emotional responses to divorce law are linked with perceptions of justice and the legitimacy of the law. Tunisian personal status law was reformed radically in 1956, opening up divorce to men and women on an equal basis which allowed the state to intervene in this intimate sphere. Before being granted a divorce, litigants are compelled to attend compulsory reconciliation sessions with a state judge. Based on an ethnography of a family court in Tunis, I argue that these sessions were an arena in which hopes and fears are played out and where, alongside the litigants, the legitimacy of the law itself is on trial. Whilst the judge seeks the "truth" in the hope of avoiding the breakdown of a marriage, litigants appeal to the judge's sympathy in hope of a favourable divorce settlement and foster their credibility by appealing to a common sense of ethical Muslim personhood. Like Kelly, however, I found that this "process of imagined identification" could lead to both sympathy and suspicion (Kelly 2012). Internal migration and the oppressive regime contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust in which duplicitous bodies were particularly hard to read (Bear, Kelly 2006). The judge tended to react with scepticism, leaving litigants anxious and uncertain; like truth, justice remained elusive. In turn, the inability of the court to deliver justice contributed to scepticism about the moral legitimacy of divorce laws that were at the same time being used to legitimise an authoritarian state.
The anthropology of emotions and law [LAW NET]