Editorial | Volume 23 No. 7

Dear readers,

With the new academic year either already underway or just around the corner, we truly hope you had a relaxing and inspiring summer break, with plenty of opportunities to turn towards your summer reading list and finish the stack of books and papers you wanted to devour for a long time.

To make sure there is enough new reading material waiting for you, we are most happy to bring to you GLJ’s latest Special Issue on “Breaching the Boundaries of Law and Anthropology: New Pathways for Legal Research”. We are immensely grateful to the guest editors Marie-Claire Foblets, Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens, and Michele Graziadei for putting together this most insightful issue – and for thereby supporting the GLJ’s mission to deliver innovative and frontier research to you.

The tendency to open up legal research and practice to contributions from other disciplines has been a game changer for legal studies in the last fifty years. The rise of recognized disciplinary combinations such as law and economics, law and gender studies, and law and literature, not to mention legal history and legal philosophy, has modified the legal landscape by critically addressing both what the law achieves and the means through which it does so, and also by pressing for the revision and even the renewal of legal methods.

Anthropology has been approached from this perspective as well, but it has yet to become a primary resource for deepening theoretical and empirical studies across legal domains. There is, of course, considerable literature on the benefits and challenges of using anthropological expertise in judicial decisions and policy making. This Special Issue, however, showcases through concrete examples how legal scholars, all of whom are affiliated in one way or another with the Law & Anthropology Department at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale, Germany, make use of the conceptual and methodological toolbox that social and cultural anthropology have to offer to enhance their legal thinking, argumentation, and practice.

Taking recourse to anthropology is not something to be taken lightly for legal scholars and practitioners, however; it is inevitably accompanied by challenges, risks, and considerable investment, not only intellectual and methodological, but also in terms of time. Moreover, this is an investment for which they often have to justify themselves to the outside world, as the profoundly interdisciplinary exercise that consists in combining two intellectual approaches as different as law and anthropology for the study of legal themes remains the exception and not the norm.

Each contributor explains what he or she stands to gain from studying how legal texts and systems are experienced by people on the ground. In each case, they offer a specific illustration of how they incorporate insights from anthropology into the study of the law. The Special Issue kicks off with an introduction by guest editors Marie-Claire Foblets, Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens, and Michele Graziadei that emphasizes the trials, tribulations, and rewards of diving into an interdisciplinary venture that yokes together law and anthropology.

The contributions that follow touch on a wide variety of highly topical, controversial social issues that are at the heart of the human condition, starting with two articles that illustrate how legal scholars can make effective use of anthropological literature to enrich their legal thinking: Stefano Osella combines comparative law with anthropological insights to offer an extended reflection on recognition of ‘third-gender’ legal rights in Europe, and Katia Bianchini addresses the relevance of anthropology for witchcraft-related asylum cases in the UK.

The next section has four contributions that demonstrate the added value of an approach combining legal analysis with anthropological literature and ethnographic fieldwork. Jonathan Bernaerts delves into the legal intricacies of using non-majoritarian languages in administrative interactions in the Dutch-language area of Belgium. Luc Leboeuf identifies the potential of anthropological methods and concepts to shed light on migrants’ experiences of “vulnerability,” ultimately arguing that anthropology can only bring a useful contribution to legal debates on “vulnerability” if the knowledge it produces is adequately translated into legal reasoning. On the basis of her multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in France, Guadeloupe, and Senegal, Marie Courtoy critically assesses the legal obligations of states toward people living in degrading territories and the potential of mobility as an adaptation strategy in the face of climate change.

Dirk Hanschel and his co-authors Mario G. Aguilera Bravo, Bayar Dashpurev, and Abduletif Kedir Idris present empirically grounded case studies from Ecuador, Mongolia, and Ethiopia to show how “environmental rights” often fail to translate into real protections for communities suffering from environmental degradation caused by extractive activities and major infrastructure projects.

In the final section, Alice Margaria demonstrates the value of the extended case method, borrowed from anthropology, to show how the ECtHR gradually shunted religion out of the picture in the famous child custody case Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland. The authors also address—very candidly—the challenges they have faced in the process of integrating their intellectual encounter with anthropology into their reflections on law.

The ultimate goal of this Special Issue is to demonstrate that the methods, tools, and data drawn from anthropology can refine legal thinking and help jurists trained in state law to develop a more refined understanding of today’s societal complexity and challenges and, ultimately, to reach more nuanced, sensitive, and just decisions.

We are confident that you will be as excited as we are about this great opportunity to dive into the world of law and anthropology, a field most of us are not yet familiar with. Bringing it to our attention will for sure be broadening our horizon and provide us all with new insights that might even influence our own future research.




There is also news to report from this year’s Editorial Board meeting: Matthias Goldmann, member of the GLJ’s Editor-in-Chief panel and graceful Master of the Special Issues process, has decided to step down as a Co-Editor in Chief. We have been able to convince him to stay on the Editorial Board so that we can still benefit from his enthusiasm, sharp mind, strategic leadership and engagement with some of the crucial questions of our times. Matthias joined the Editor-in-Chief panel in 2017 and has been an absolutely vital presence in making the big transitions that came with joining CUP; he has led the journal to become the top law journal when it comes to special issues and special sections.

At the same time, we are very happy to announce that the Editorial Board has unanimously elected Clara Rigoni and Klaas Eller to join the Editors-in-Chief panel, with immediate effect. If you like to learn more about them – they will introduce themselves to our esteemed readership in the coming weeks on the German Law Journal’s website. We look forward to working with them and are excited about the enthusiasm and creativity they bring for their new role in the Journal.

Finally, Jürgen BastPoul KjaerFernanda Nicola, and Christoph Safferling have requested to be relieved from their duties as members of the GLJ’s Editorial Board. The entire German Law Journal family thanks them wholeheartedly for their engagement and for their long-time support of the Journal. We are happy all four agreed to remain in the inner circle of friends and continue to support the Journal as members of the Advisory Board.


That’s it for today – and now, as always: Happy Reading!


Emanuel V. Towfigh and Jen Hendry

for the Editors-in-Chief