Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
This paper examines the appropriation of formal law for dispute resolution among Urarina people of Amazonian Peru. Until recently, conflicts of interest were typically resolved through the relocation of one or more parties, sometimes accompanied by overt or covert forms of violence. Over the past decade or so, however, sedentarization and the delegation of judicial power to local authorities have encouraged people to seek restitution through legal as much as extra-legal avenues, especially through the formal denunciation or denuncia, which people deploy using the logic previously reserved for shamanic vengeance. This implies, among other things, an attempt to use law as an offensive weapon and a concerted effort to undermine the emergence of a unicentric power system. Popular recourse to legal techniques has nevertheless tended to formalize and institutionalize moral obligations, such as those associated with marriage; it has also given rise to an incipient tension between formal, state-sponsored or “ordinary” justice on the one hand, and so-called “communal” or indigenous justice on the other. I argue that an examination of this ostensible tension, and the efforts of local judges to mediate it drawing on generic principles such as “rationality” and “proportionality”, provides insight into the ways in which the very idea of law comes to be understood in a context in which moral norms and expectations of conduct have been subject to very little elaboration or enforcement.