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Legal scholarship, Anthropology, Cross-disciplinary conversations, Fieldwork, Study of law


The study of law, we are told often and generally with approval, has become a potluck to which everyone is invited. Over there stand the historians bearing their retrospectively informed insights; across from them are the experimental psychologists hoisting their pleasingly social-scientific brew; in the corner lurk philosophers chatting calmly over some first principles. The center of the room is quite naturally taken up by the economists, laughing exuberantly over their spread of nifty models, intimidating formulae, and soothing predictions. In the midst of this lively affair, circulating among the invitees like a dutiful host, rejecting nothing, sampling everything, and exulting, not very slyly, in the dazzling array of theories and methodologies brought together for its delectation, is law. Law borrows from everyone in this delightful scene, it accommodates everyone, and if some of its esteemed guests seem more esteemed than others that is only because their offerings were seasoned to taste.

Why, then, is anthropology so conspicuously absent from the party?

The rest of this introductory Essay provides context for one half of an effort, now several years in the making, to think through the intersection of law and anthropology with others who, by inclination or by necessity, would like there to be one. It is one-half of that effort because it is addressed to law folk; its companion-appearing elsewhere-is addressed to anthropologists. That these conversations have occurred at all is exciting. That they appear separately is telling.

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Alabama Law Review