Custom: the fate of non-western law and Indigenous governance in the 21st century

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  • Custom: the fate of non-western law and Indigenous governance in the 21st century

As we enter the 21st century, the Asia-Pacific region is faced by a widespread expression of micronationalist and local religious movements, in the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (Bougainville), Indonesia (Halmahera, West Papua, East Timor and elsewhere), the Philippines, among the most newsworthy.

As we enter the 21st century, the Asia-Pacific region is faced by a widespread expression of micronationalist and local religious movements, in the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (Bougainville), Indonesia (Halmahera, West Papua, East Timor and elsewhere), the Philippines, among the most newsworthy.

The ground-breaking studies of the “invention of kastom” in the South Pacific by Australian-based scholars Jolly, Keesing and Thomas did much to cement Australia’s key role in the analysis of evolving indigenous tradition in Asia Pacific. But since that time, kastom itself has become more and more codified under developing and increasingly sophisticated national regimes of customary law. How has this affected the moral and judicial force of customary law at the local level? How have courts, both national and international, come to play an increasingly decisive role in the adjudication of custom, culture and local governance in this part of the world (as well as elsewhere)? What is the extent to which such courts, increasingly overseen by UN agencies, will be called upon to resolve violent conflict between minority religious and ethnic groups in terms of the translation between different traditions, languages and cultures? What will be the evolving relationship between anthropology, political science and law under these conditions?

In addition, in both Papua New Guinea and Australia, landmark court cases such as Wik, Yorta Yorta, Hides Gas Project, and Gobe Land Dispute are resolving fundamental issues concerning indigenous customary ownership of land, while other cases such as Bulun Bulun are reconfiguring what we take to be property relations in societies which traditionally had a very different understanding of individual or private property and its ownership.

This workshop will bring together social scientists working in the fields of indigenous societies in southeast Asia, the Pacific and Australia, scholars of non-western law, governance and politics, and jurists and legal practitioners from the areas of Southeast Asia, the south Pacific and Australia.

Among others, we will address the following questions:

  1. What is the progress of increasing legal and constitution codification of non-written customary law in 21st century nation states of Asia Pacific?
  2. How has the trend to see culture as property been affecting the local governance of customary societies within national states?
  3. What is the role of non-western state regimes in this process, such as adat law in Indonesia, as opposed to English-derived notions of the self, property and rights? How has codification proceeded under such differing national cultural traditions? How have non-western states such as Indonesia resisted the hegemony of the increasingly global English-based discourse of human rights, law and governance?
  4. What has been the effect of globalising influences, represented most conspicuously in United Nations efforts to codify and define universal human rights, on the preservation of the positive effects of cultural difference? How do we identify desirable and undesirable forms of cultural difference? Has the movement to universal human rights accelerated the narrowing down of cultural difference through its hegemonic definitions?
  5. What role will social scientists and legal scholars play in the evolution of global codification of human and cultural rights and hence in the global definition of such cultural difference?

Event Schedule

Contact Information

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
  • +61 .2 62491788
  • +61 .2 62474335
  • secretariat@assa.edu.au

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