Disciplines traditionally designated as ‘comparative’ – Comparative Literature, History, etc – have radically called into question comparison as their apparent methodological foundation, even postulating its ‘obsolescence’. Such tendencies have also been informed and driven by the insight that the label ‘comparative’ is a legacy of the nineteenth century, when the ‘comparative method’ spread from biology and philology to other developing academic disciplines. This awareness of its roots in the peak period of colonialism and imperialism has opened ‘comparison’ itself to postcolonial critiques in these disciplines. ‘Comparison’ is no longer necessarily accepted as a timeless and ‘neutral’ methodological constant, but rather viewed as a contextual historical phenomenon. By contrast, ‘Comparative Law’ scholars have been more hesitant to challenge the role of comparison and the ‘innocence of method’ (Günter Frankenberg) so fundamentally. This chapter explores the role that a lack of disciplinary historical self-awareness plays in this hesitation. It interrogates, in particular, the traditional self-portrayal of Comparative Law as a ‘young’ discipline and the narrative of the famous 1900 Paris Congress as a mythical point of origin. The trope of such a ‘new beginning’ in or around 1900 insinuates a critical caesura that eclipses Comparative Law’s intellectual roots in the canon of nineteenth century comparative disciplines; and that absolves it from reflection on how these disciplines related to a colonial/imperialistic historical context. The chapter seeks to establish that the entanglement of our disciplinary history with that of the ‘comparative method’, that the coloniality of comparison itself is indeed an important subject in its own right. It suggests a context-sensitive recovery of the discipline’s institutional and discursive history, theoretically informed by scholarship specifically aimed at resisting ‘the mystifying amnesia of the colonial aftermath’ (Leela Gandhi).Download the essay from SSRN at the link.
November 28, 2022
Dedek on The Tradition of Comparative Law: Comparison and Its Colonial Legacies @LawMcGill @CambridgeUP
Helge Dedek, McGill University Faculty of Law, is publishing The Tradition of Comparative Law: Comparison and its Colonial Legacies in The Cambridge Handbook of Comparative Law (Mathias Siems and Po Jen Yap, eds., (Cambridge University Press, 2023). Here is the abstract.