Imperial Agendas, Global Solidarities, and Third World Socio-Legal Studies: Methodological Reflections

36 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2013

Date Written: August 25, 2011


This article interrogates the methodological lenses through which law in the Third World is commonly analyzed in socio-legal studies. Third World socio-legal studies, this article argues, is a field in search of philosophical foundations. It continues to rely on conceptual categories and analytical frameworks developed through the intellectual, cultural, and social histories of Western capitalist societies, which it extends uncritically to different inter-subjective orders in Third World contexts. The article examines the common grounds shared by two apparently competing discourses about law in the Third World, which I label imperial agendas and global solidarities. It is difficult to speak about the Third World without becoming mired in conceptual contradictions. One reason for the methodological problems in Third World socio-legal studies is that social philosophy, and liberal philosophy in particular, undermines the concept of society. This article begins by examining the meaning of society in social philosophy. It then interrogates three dichotomous sets of analytical frameworks that are often invoked in Third World socio-legal studies: (a) comparative law versus Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL); (b) economic or modern law versus cultural or traditional law; and (c) state centralism versus legal pluralism. The article argues for a differentiated understanding of society at the ontological, structural, and empirical levels, which should help transcend binary approaches and facilitate theoretical reflections about the Third World without subsuming its specificities. The article concludes by arguing for a sustained research program to put Third World Socio-legal Studies on firm methodological foundations.

Keywords: Third World socio-legal studies, methodology, society, TWAIL, Asian law, colonialism and capitalism

Suggested Citation

D'Souza, Radha, Imperial Agendas, Global Solidarities, and Third World Socio-Legal Studies: Methodological Reflections (August 25, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Radha D'Souza (Contact Author)

University of Westminster ( email )

School of Law, University of Westminster
4, Little Titchfield St
London, W1W 7UW
United Kingdom
02079115000 x 2706 (Phone)


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