Thinking with Culture in Law and Development

77 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2009 Last revised: 13 May 2010

See all articles by Amy J. Cohen

Amy J. Cohen

Temple University Beasley School of Law

Date Written: May 29, 2009


This Article considers a recent programmatic shift among law and development scholars who have moved from advocating building rule-of-law processes, rules, and institutions to also building rule-of-law cultures. The Article carefully examines how these scholars envision culture as a tool to refashion the relationship between legal institutions and ordinary individuals. It traces the ways in which they use culture as a means to take law - general, universal, and acultural - and to make law specific, local, and embedded within the consciousness of ordinary people. It then suggests that this turn from law to culture produces a conceptualization of culture uncannily analogous to the conceptualization of law that the turn to culture was meant to supplement and correct. This similarity becomes especially apparent when examining development projects. The Article therefore draws on ethnographic examples of development challenges in Nepal to illustrate the difficulties inherent in culture change projects and the dangers of conceptualizing culture apart from the politics and conflict of everyday life.

Keywords: law and development, culture, rule of law, legal consciousness, Nepal

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Amy J., Thinking with Culture in Law and Development (May 29, 2009). Buffalo Law Review, Vol. 57, p. 511, 2009, Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 126, Available at SSRN:

Amy J. Cohen (Contact Author)

Temple University Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA
United States

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