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Global legal comparisons: what can we compare, how, and to what purpose? - Fernanda Pirie

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Virtual Event


Fri 29 October 2021

The Edinburgh Centre for Private Law presents

Global legal comparisons: what can we compare, how, and to what purpose?

Professor Fernanda Pirie, Professor of the Anthropology of Law at the University of Oxford.


About the speaker
An anthropologist specialising in Tibetan societies, Professor Fernanda Pirie uses both ethnographic and historical methods to study and compare legal practices and texts. She has argued for a new anthropology of law, which engages both with legal theory and legal history: The Anthropology of Law (OUP, 2013). This builds on themes and debates developed in the Oxford Legalism project, which brought together scholars from anthropology, history, and other disciplines to compare wide-ranging empirical examples (Legalism, OUP, 4 vols). These themes form the basis for Fernanda’s research into Tibetan legal history and an AHRC-funded project on the legal history of medieval Tibet: 
Legal Ideology in Tibet: Politics, Practice, and Religion (2016–18) This has led to a series of publications and a web-site containing source material (

Professor Pirie’s latest book is a global history of law, which will be published in November 2021The Rule of Laws: a 4,000-year quest to order the world (Profile Books, Basic Books).


About the seminar
Looking widely at different laws quickly raises questions about what we can compare. Legal systems have taken very different forms and have been created for very different purposes over the course of human history, so what and why should we try to compare? What, after all, counts as law? Rather than focusing on content and detail, I suggest, or on the ways in which lawmakers have tried to address similar problems, global comparisons can better address different questions: who makes law, in what circumstances, and why? And who uses it and to what ends? The starting point must be to examine each system on its own terms and to look for common themes among them, as well as significant differences. This can ultimately shed light on the variety of roles that laws play in human societies, as well as the common threads that unite them.


This event is free and open to all but registration is required (link below).

Image credit: Photo by Samson on Unsplash

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