Asian Legal Revivals: Lawyers in the Shadow of Empire

By Ginsburg, Tom | Law & Society Review, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Asian Legal Revivals: Lawyers in the Shadow of Empire


Ginsburg, Tom, Law & Society Review


Asian Legal Revivals: Lawyers in the Shadow of Empire. By Yves Dezalay and Bryant Garth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. 304 pp. $27.50 paper.

In Asian Legal Revivals, Dezalay and Garth turn their powerful Bourdieuan analytic lens to a new region of the world. The book reflects many of the themes developed in their 2002 book, The Internationalization of the Palace Wars, which concerned the contests for epistemic and material power in Latin America. These themes include the importance of colonial legacies, the deployment of family capital across generations, and the state as a site of contestation among professional fields. The players in this contest are knowledges (law, economics, administration) but are also families, professions, and networks. Their story traces how particular groups seek to advance law as a legitimating device, succeeding to various degrees in different Asian post-colonial contexts. Throughout, they emphasize the dual nature of law, the so-called "double game" in which law both serves empire and facilitates resistance to it; lawyers advance a conceptual distinction between politics and markets that benefits them materially and symbolically.

The book reflects a deeply external point of view on law in Asia, as captured by the use of "Empire" in the title. Law is conceived of as purely colonial in origin. Unusually, for a book on Asian law, there is no attempt to grapple with indigenous traditions of law and politics, which are sidestepped in part through case selection. Indeed, the authors refer to the colonial encounter as the "geneses of law" in Asia (p. 2), implicitly de-centering the legacies of robust pre-colonial Chinese and Japanese legal traditions.

Instead, the case studies focus on seven former colonies: Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and South Korea. Four of these, of course, were British colonies, and there is a good deal of weight put on the American colony of the Philippines, foreshadowing broader American regional influence during the Cold War. (The former French colonies of Indochina are omitted.)

The book begins by tracing the history of law in European state-building, beginning in Renaissance Italy, and the colonial export of these models. A chapter on the Philippines highlights America's reluctant "anti-imperialist" imperialism. In the countries with the longest encounter with Anglo-American colonialism, India and the Philippines, law became deeply embedded in the state and administration. …

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