Accepted paper:

"If the judge is blind, how can he know the truth?" Legitimacy and the epistemology of justice in peri-urban northern Mozambique


Christian Laheij (MPI for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the impact of judicial decentralisation on the resolution of civil disputes in peri-urban northern Mozambique. It focuses on the construction and negotiation of legitimacy in settings of pluralism, and argues for an epistemological perspective on the provision of justice.

Paper long abstract:

Mozambique has over the past decades adopted a series of legal reforms aimed at decentralisation of the administration of justice in the civil domain. This has resulted in pluralisation of the legal landscape, with state courts, police, neighbourhood administrators, community courts, community police, customary authorities, religious leaders and NGOs now vying for clients, recognition and power. This paper explores the impact of these reforms in a peri-urban context where spatial proximity means that competition between legal actors is especially intense. Specifically, the paper asks how legal actors involved in the resolution of civil disputes construct and negotiate legitimacy. In analysing two case studies, it is shown that struggles over legitimacy are structured to an important degree by changing truth preferences, the dynamics of which are beyond the control of individual actors. This finding has implications for research on legal pluralism and justice sector reforms. Whereas existing studies tend to analyse questions of authority and legitimacy in pluralist settings in terms of their associations with power, procedures and norms, this paper argues for an epistemological perspective on the provision of justice.

panel P201
Contested justice: Legal and judicial pluralism in urban settings and renegotiations of the law from urban to rural domains