Law's Imaginary Life on the Ground: Scenes of the Rule of Law in Liberia

Shane Chalmers

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    This paper is concerned with "what takes place in the rule of law," a question I consider here through an examination of what is taking place in the process of "building the rule of law" in post-war Liberia. This involves an empirical study of law, and as such, a study of law's imaginary life on the ground. My argument here is that all "empirical" research engages the imagination, requiring the scholar to develop their capacity to study phenomena through the imaginary rather than seek to eliminate it from their scholarship. I make this argument under the influence of Theodor Adorno's negative-dialectical philosophy, which bears most pointedly on this paper through his concept of "exact imagination" - a concept that is enlivened by the tension between reason and imagination, in a way that makes them critical to each other and thus to research. This is an attempt to see law through the imaginary by seeing how the national law of Liberia takes form as law through the many different ways in which it diverges from its concept. This is about how the ungrounded situation of the national law of Liberia - a situation that results from its being sea-borne to begin with - is what grounds it as "the law of the land," and how this is the condition of its rule.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)179-198
    JournalLaw and Literature
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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