Fernanda Pirie

Professor of the Anthropology of Law

Other affiliations

St Cross College

Faculty officer role(s):

Director of Graduate Studies for Centre for Socio-Legal Studies


Fernanda Pirie uses anthropological and comparative methods to compare legal practices and texts from around the world. She has carried out ethnographic fieldwork at both ends of the Tibetan plateau and also conducted historical work on Tibetan legal texts.

The Rule of Laws: a 4,000-year quest to order the world (Profile Books, Basic Books, 2021), her most recent book, is a global history of law. It traces the rise and fall of the world’s major legal systems and compares examples of historic law-making worldwide.

In her earlier monograph, The Anthropology of Law (OUP, 2013), Fernanda addresses the nature of law as a social form, as well as analysing its role in societies. This approach builds on themes and debates developed in the Oxford Legalism project, a collaboration between scholars from anthropology, history, and other disciplines, which produced four edited volumes (Legalism, OUP, 4 vols).

Fernanda’s research on Tibetan legal texts was funded by the AHRC and established a web-site containing source material (https://tibetanlaw.org/project) as well as several publications on the nature of Tibetan law and its relationship with Buddhism. She has also has worked with historians of the region in two ANR/DFG projects to develop the social history of Tibet.

Fernanda is currently writing on themes in global and historic comparative law, while developing a further research project on historic Tibetan legal texts.

Qualifications DPhil in Social Anthropology (Oxford) 2002, MSc in Social Anthropology (UCL) 1998, Called to the Bar 1988, BA in French and Philosophy (Oxford) 1986.