Codification in Developing Nations: Ritual and Symbol in Cambodia and Indonesia

42 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2008

See all articles by Dolores A. Donovan

Dolores A. Donovan

University of San Francisco - School of Law

Date Written: September 4, 2008


This article examines the purposes served by written law in the developing nations of Cambodia and Indonesia. Its thesis is that in societies where ordering the behavior of people and governments is largely accomplished by mechanisms other than written law, written law necessarily has little to do with the regulation of conduct. As a result, the enactment of written law need not mean that the law is intended to be obeyed immediately. The article analyzes two different cases. The first is the Cambodian coup d'etat -- a single incidence of the use of state power to violate fundamental norms embodied in the most basic written law: a constitution. The second is the widespread disregard of certain laws (specifically the Indonesian land and marriage laws) by the people, and the tolerance of that disregard by their government.

The article explores selected modern theories concerning the functions of written law as ritual and as symbol and analyses the applicability of these theories to Cambodia and Indonesia. It concludes by advancing three hypotheses. First, the command-and-obey function of written law is relatively unimportant in nations such as Cambodia and Indonesia where the primary means of social ordering are nonlegal. Second, the enactment of written law in Cambodia functions at times as ritual or a theatrical performance intended to role model the state-citizen relationships characteristic of liberal democracy. Third, in nations such as Indonesia that are characterized by legal pluralism in that several different mutually inconsistent normative systems operate simultaneously, national written laws function primarily as symbols of national unity, state ideology, state power, and governmental legitimacy rather than as commands backed by the coercive power of the state.

Keywords: comparative law, rule of law, codification, Cambodia, Indonesia

Suggested Citation

Donovan, Dolores A., Codification in Developing Nations: Ritual and Symbol in Cambodia and Indonesia (September 4, 2008). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 31, No. 3, 1998, Available at SSRN:

Dolores A. Donovan (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

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