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Cultural Inflected Law and Development. A New Echelon of Western Arrogance.
Ugo Mattei
1) War is a peace-keeping operation. A “blackmail” is a “context of conditionality”;
torture is an “extreme interrogation”; a slum is an aggregate of “informally titled
dwellings”. Politically correct labels in the post-modern condition, the logic of
late capitalism.
2) Today development discourse is becoming “culturally sensitive”. It ostensibly
abandons the uni-linear evolutionary model of social Darwinism (countries
progress through subsequent stages of development) that have characterized
development economics from the Rostow’s Non Communist Manifesto, through
the years of the first “law and development” (despite the more public minded gist
supplied by the dominant Keynesian paradigm) all the way to the post 1989 “law
and economics of development” or “new law and development’ if one prefers the
Trubek-Santos terminology. It adds a new horizon, in a multidisciplinary westerncentric alliance to legitimize and de-politicize the status quo: that of social
3) Some lesson are learned from the “failure of law and development”: They failed
because: a) they had too much of a superficial knowledge of the contexts of
reception. b) They failed to understand the law as the main system of
legitimization and centralization of power in the hands of inaccessible elites; in
fact they had an artificially easy access to State authority c) They did not realize
the intrinsic conservativism of local legal elites, because they took for granted the
liberal atmosphere of elite US institutions, moreover working on an idealized
unrealistic vision of US law. d) They were naively ethnocentric.
4) Anthropology can cure many of these shortcomings thus promising that the new
post 1989 era of law and development might deliver its promises. Laura Nader
poses a disturbing question for developmental “dogoodders” in a recent piece
delivered at the World Bank and published on “Global Jurist”: Promise or
Plunder? We answer for the latter in our forthcoming book, Plunder, When The
Rule of Law is Illegal, Wiley-Blackwell 2008.
5) But anthropology does not cure, but actually worsens, the disease of development
discourse. The de-politicization and the denial of a local self sufficient political
process in the subordinate periphery. This is the disease of latent Western racism:
Western intervention for development is needed, is required almost as a matter of
necessity because of the political vacuum in which these lesser people operate.
Nowhere such an attitude is clearer than in the current crisis in Darfur, often
pointed at, like the Balkans and Rwanda, as evidence of the moral necessity of
Western intervention. It would be impossible to find honest acknowledgement of
the results of local politics in Southern Sudan, capable of reaching a deal in
incredibly difficult circumstances exactly because they were left alone. We share
a caricature picture of a complex political reality of an insurgency and counterinsurgency, a deeply political phenomenon. We prefer to talk about “genocide”
within an essentialized vision of the good and the evil. It is a good strategy not to
ask deep and disturbing questions about the causes.
6) In September the New York Times features a front page story of Imbedded
anthropologists in Afghanistan and Iraq, working for the US military. There was
no stir (but this is a country where any front story can be run because the sense of
outrage is dead). Anthropologists, have long studied the people we then bomb
(think about Ruth Benedic’s Crysantemum and Sward). Exactly like economists
and lawyers they are providers of legitimating ideology for Western domination.
7) ADR has been marketed as a more “culturally sensitive” device to deal with
issues of access to justice and legal professionalism in Africa. It took Martin
Chanok’s work on Zimbabwe to show its connection with fears of counterhegemony.
8) US Aid has understood the importance to “get the traditional chief on board” in
attempting to privatize public land in Africa in order to sell it to Monsanto for the
purpose of experimentation of OGM’s, the next frontier in the science of
exploitation of weak people. This is where the transnational post-colonial order is
proving to be much more effective than the old colonial one, often undermined by
the resistance of traditional collective models of land tenure.
9) “Structural adjustment”, the very much resisted job of economists, seems to have
found a very strong allied force in “cultural adjustment”, the job of
anthropologists with many ONG’s, concerned with human or women’s rights as
its main agencies. But the aim is the same: social individualization for the purpose
of capitalistic expansion through the construction of consumer’s needs.
10) Thus ‘Structural Adjustment” experienced a process of “cultural inflection” and
changed its name. It is now known, at the World bank and IMF, as a response to
its critics as “comprehensive development”. Another post-modern new branding
for exactly the same policy.
11) With the help of anthropology and culture, giving a small bonus to the capitalist
“left”, the discourse of development and progress become bi-partisan and thus
even less political. Like their fellow, and equally ambiguous term, the rule of law
they thus get beyond political scrutiny. The West reaches an even more advanced
echelon of organized hypocrisy in the legitimization of plunder.