Legal Connectivities and Colonial Cultures in Africa

Max Planck Research Group

The legal history of colonialism has for a long time been embedded in the paradigm of the nation state, where the focus lies on investigating the history of individual colonies within a single colonial or national legal tradition or from the perspective of particular legal subdisciplines. State-centrism in colonial legal history means that the colonies and metropole are often separated from developments that took place on a regional or international level. As a result, colonial law is often presented as one-dimensional and the result of a linear top-down process of norm-making that involved little or no interaction with other legal regimes. However, insights from global history, histoire croisée and entangled history have illustrated the impact on historical developments of the movement and the spatial interconnectedness of people, goods and ideas. This project starts from the premise that the same may be said for the movement of legal concepts and ideas in, as well as about, Africa during the colonial period between the late 19th century and the 1960s.

The project maps the connectivities of legal developments in colonial Africa across the local, regional and international level by identifying normative exchanges, for example, between international treaty- and diplomatic negotiations, lobby groups, colonial governments and local actors. Here, the actions of and networks between historical actors, who often held plural and conflicting allegiances, take centre-stage. The project includes a number of case studies that focus on concessions regimes and land rights, political crimes, and gender and labour. Together, these case studies will allow us to trace norm-making from its inception until its application, allowing space for the identification of legal pluralism, debates between official and non-official norm-setters, and failed initiatives. This research will provide new perspectives on how to study, understand and identify the characteristics of colonial lawmaking in Africa.

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