Pak Dusa's law: Thoughts on law, legal knowledge and power

F. von Benda-Beckmann

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/Letter to the editorAcademic


This paper examines the ways in which law, legal knowledge and power become involved in social interaction. Any such interaction takes place within and is constrained and enabled by actual and imagined "power fields", constituted by configurations of relations of autonomy and dependence. Legally constructed positions of legitimate power (in general rules or concrete decisions) can be important resources which can be drawn upon in interaction. This is illustrated with the experiences of Pak Dusa, a villager on the island of Ambon in Eastern Indonesia. The paper argues that the main difference between constructions of law in legal decisions made in courts and by other actors outside courts does not lie so much in the actors' knowledge of the law but more in the courts' legally constituted position to exercise power. However, as the experiences of Pak Dusa show, court decisions enter a wider power field in which they may loose their legally constructed significance, while his own, unauthorized law carried the day
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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