Cultural Expertise and Litigation in the History of Law

Workshop Convener: Livia Holden – Centre for Socio-Legal Studies - University of Oxford

Date: 4th July 2018

Venue: Cente for Socio-Legal Studies - Oxford

This workshop takes place within the project Cultural Expertise in Europe: What is it useful for? (EURO-EXPERT) funded by the European Research Council and directed by Livia Holden. This workshop explores cultural expertise in the ancient and modern history of expert witnessing. The stress of this workshop will be on development and change of culture-related expert witnessing, culture-related adjudication and resolution of dispute, criminal litigation and other kinds of court and out of court proceedings that make reference to notions of culture with or without the appointment of experts.  Two sets of topics will be discussed: the reflection on the definition of cultural expertise and its ancient and modern historical background. This workshop aims on the one hand to understand if cultural expertise has been relevant in court and out of court for the resolution of conflicts in the history of law, and on the other hand to trace the historical developments of most recent trends of cultural expertise. How does ancient and modern history report the judicial practices involving the specialists of local laws and customs? What have been the most frequent fields of expert witnessing that are related with culture? Who were the experts? What were their links with local communities and also with the courts and the state power? How cultural expert witnessing was received by judges and other members of the legal profession?

The above questions link with the notion of culture and the relationship between law and culture, which are significant for the definition of cultural expertise and its measurable impact in society. EURO-EXPERT adopts an ethnomethodological perspective with regard to culture and history. EURO-EXPERT is less interested in the ontology of culture and more in what social actors think that culture is, both synchronically and diachronically: what are the documents that contribute to the construction of evidence? What kinds of information is omitted or included? How this changes over time? Who are the social actors who are officially acknowledged as “experts” in the construction of evidence? How certain narratives have acquired legal status whereas some other narratives have been discredited over time? Contributions will range from ancient to modern times to explore the modalities of ascertainment of customs, the variety of use of expert witnessing, the interpretation of culture proposed by litigants and defence lawyers, and more generally speaking the process of interpretation of cultures and belonging. The above-mentioned themes are illustrative and prospective speakers are encouraged to submit abstracts on a greater variety of subjects related with cultural expertise in the history of law all over the world. In order to better prepare for the publication following the workshop, papers may contain an overview of the relevant legal framework in which situations of cultural expertise are described as well as the analysis of the role and impact of cultural expertise on the basis of precedents and case-law and/or case-studies. Both theoretical and praxis based papers will be accepted. Abstracts between 500 and 1000 words plus a short bio (indicating current affiliation and main publications) should be sent by the 31st March 2018 to Livia Holden at Accommodation and some meals will be provided. Subject to availability of funds and exhaustion of the participant’s institutional resources, funds may also cover some travel expenses. Participants are requested to clarify whether they can bear fully or partially their own travel expenses.