Definition of Legal Anthropology, History and Scope

Definition of Legal Anthropology – Legal anthropology is a branch of law that is largely unknown to the general public. Anthropology should not have anything to do with law, because it is already known by society as a branch of knowledge that is close to historical and cultural events. But yes, it is a very broad field of knowledge, covering almost every aspect of human life.

Legal anthropology is a nascent science. It examines the characteristics of the legal forms of human activity in different historical epochs and in very different contexts. For researchers, developments in this field are very important because they help them recognize the diversity of world laws and see laws in the perceptions of representatives of different countries and cultures.

As a new scientific study, in-depth research is needed to understand what are the main subjects that can be studied in the study of legal anthropology. Therefore, so that Matobers friends are not confused in understanding it, in this discussion we will discuss the study of legal anthropology that you can study at home.

You can see further discussion regarding legal anthropology below!

Definition of Legal Anthropology

Legal anthropology explores the ways in which laws are made, including the social context in which they are made, the ways in which laws maintain and change other social institutions, and the ways in which laws shape social behavior. social meaning and legal meaning.

However, as the post-Cold War era and the political world order developed, the scope of legal anthropology research expanded to explore the relationship between social conflict and economic inequality, and legal limitations on the performance of social engineering. .

Legal anthropology is now also examining the relationship between politics and law as it changed in the post-Cold War context. As a result of this broadening in scope, some have even called the study of 19th-century legal anthropology the study of proto-forensic anthropology.

The definition of anthropology is the science of humans. According to Hilman Hadikusuma, anthropology is a science that studies humans in terms of biology and culture. The main goal of anthropology is human, then cultural behavior.

Anthropology views law as an aspect of culture, namely by ordinary social authorities to regulate behavior and society in such a way that there are no deviations from predetermined social norms and those deviations are corrected. I see it as an aspect that is used.

Legal anthropology as a science has been influenced by anthropology and legal science, so that as a ‘child’ he has ‘father’ anthropology and ‘mother’ legal science, therefore understanding anthropology and legal science is a prerequisite for understanding forensic anthropology. Legal anthropology as a science empirically examines human behavior and all its aspects in relation to written and unwritten legal norms.

The material study of anthropological legal issues through the management and coordination of various areas of public life, its correlation with proven practice, allows researchers to build a clear structure of the legal system, understand its internal factors and find mechanisms of development and symbiosis. social group. In the current situation, the interest of this type of scientific research is very great, especially in researching legal sources represented by customs and habits.

Legal anthropology is a special field of cultural anthropology that specifically observes people’s behavior according to the rule of law. Relevant legal rules are not limited to normative law, but also include customary law and people’s culture of behavior.

Although it is a development of cultural anthropology, legal anthropology is not ethnocentric, meaning that it is not limited to a particular culture. The aim of his research is to examine the relationship between legal and cultural aspects and social organization.

From an anthropological point of view, law is an integral part of the culture as a whole and therefore law is studied as a product of social interaction that is influenced by other cultural aspects such as politics, economics, ideology, religion, etc.

Definition of Legal Anthropology According to Experts

1. Hoebel

An acceptable definition of forensic anthropology is Hoebel’s formulation that social norms are laws. Violators will be subject to physical sanctions, social sanctions, and other sanctions by those authorized to act if there is an act or violation of social norms.

2. Leopold Pospisil

In contrast, Leopold Pospisil argued: Compare and study human society. In addition to a cultured and qualitatively undifferentiated society, we need to consider how easy the stages of community development are, including:

  • Legal anthropology does not consider a balanced society that collapses when deviations occur, but rather sees society as dynamic so that the social and legal roles are not limited to maintaining the status quo. As Stone argues, legal anthropology does not believe in legislative incompetence.
  • Legal anthropology includes empirically based jurisprudence, according to which the theory presented must support relevant facts, or at least present relevant facts.
  • The definition of anthropology is the science of humans. According to Hilman Hadikusumah, anthropology is a science that studies humans both in terms of biology and culture. The main subject of anthropology is humans, then cultural behavior.
  • Anthropology sees law only as part of culture, that is, as an aspect used by social orderly forces to regulate behavior and society in such a way that no deviations and deviations from prescribed social norms can be corrected when they arise.
  • Legal anthropology is a branch of legal science that studies patterns of disputes and their resolution in both simple and modern societies. This restriction was introduced by Paul Bohannan..

3. Hillman Hadikusuma

The definition of anthropology is the science of humans. According to Hilman Hadikusuma, anthropology is a science that studies humans in terms of biology and culture. The main goal of anthropology is human, then cultural behavior.

Anthropology considers law as one of the aspects of culture, which is used by ordinary social authorities to regulate behavior and society in such a way that there are no deviations from predetermined social norms and those deviations are corrected. .

4. William Nixon

According to William Nixon (1998), legal anthropology is a field of research that tries to explain the order in society. Law is seen as an important part of culture.

In legal anthropology, law is considered as part of culture because it is formed, determined, and enforced to meet the needs of community members.

History of Legal Anthropology

There are seven important periods in the development of legal anthropology. The first period occurred in the 1860s when Sir Henry Maine, based in India, published an ancient law that summarized various legal traditions and theorized that any developing society would experience a change from its primitive version to a Victorian society.

Maine’s views can certainly be characterized as racist in a modern context because they glorify European civilization.

Another period occurred in the 1920s, when Bronislaw Malinowski criticized Maine’s theory and developed an ethnographic approach to the study of law. Adamson Hoebel co-published The Cheyenne Way with legal scholar Karl Llewellyn in 1941, which used a case study approach to studying foreign law. Hoebel’s approach is to return to Maine’s development theory.

In the mid-20th century, anthropologists debated the use of the Anglo-American system of legal classification in studying non-Western societies. The two protagonists of this discussion are Max Gluckman and Paul Bohannan.

Bohannan believes that Anglo-American legal categorization limits understanding and representation of other cultures and prefers the use of local expressions when concepts cannot be translated into English but can be explained. At the same time, Gluckman believes that Bohannan’s approach is too cautious and actually becomes an obstacle to comparative analysis.

In the 1970s, legal anthropological research experienced a transition from the rule of law to the legal process. The idea of ​​studying the legal process is related to legal pluralism, alternative systems and legal structures that exist in every society.

In the 1980s, postmodern debates and criticism emerged that challenged the traditional classification of legal anthropologists. The case approach developed by Hoebel was intended to ignore legal compliance in society and emphasize Anglo-American legal values.

In the 1990s, the study of legal anthropology continued to develop because many researchers wanted studies from various perspectives, such as: linguistic approaches, narrative approaches, interdisciplinary studies, transnational perspectives and the relationship between law and socio-culture.

Structure of Legal Anthropology

The structure of legal anthropology includes the following parts of this discipline:

  • Theoretical information about countries and laws. Epistemological and methodological aspects are needed to be able to apply the results in practice.
  • Legal ontology, which is a field of knowledge about human existence related to state law, is the rights, freedoms, privileges, and obligations that play an important role in the formation of the legal culture of society.
  • Ethnographic anthropology as part of jurisprudence. The general objective of this data field is to describe changes in human behavior and actions as a result of developments in legal norms, customs of traditional and ancient societies, legal relations and mutual conflicts, as well as a comparative analysis of obsolete norms. and modern systems take human perception into account.

Functions and Objectives of Legal Anthropology

Scientific research in this field is the result of deep differences between current law and the theoretical aspects of law. In this sense, anthropology is a discipline on two levels:

  • the first stage is the block of logical-philosophical knowledge about law and the state;
  • The second stage is the practically applied complex, the development of which is absolutely necessary for the direct application of the knowledge gained in legal activity.

Scope of Legal Anthropology (Scope of Legal Anthropology).

For an anthropologist, legal phenomena arise when this behavior has disrupted or even damaged the institutions that are most respected by members of society.

Law as a cultural aspect therefore has several basic tasks to maintain its position in society. In this case, EA Hoebel, mentions the scope of legal anthropology, namely:

  • Formulate guidelines for how citizens should behave so that integration into society occurs as little as possible.
  • Neutralize power in society so that it can be used to maintain order.
  • Settlement of disputes to restore the original state. Reforming policies governing relations between members and community groups in line with the various changes that have occurred.
  • On that basis, legal anthropology must include several legal functions, namely as a tool for social control, a tool for facilitating social interaction, and a tool for reform.

As part of the social sciences, anthropology has its own field of study that can be distinguished from other social sciences such as sociology, economics, political science, criminology and others. Anthropology can also be classified under the field of humanities as its studies focus on humans and their culture.

As explained above, in general it can be said that anthropology is a science that studies humans according to their physical, social and cultural diversity. As stated by Koentjaraningrat, the scope and foundation of anthropology have not yet reached a general form that is intact and stable in all world scientific centers.

According to him, the best way to understand this is to study the basic sciences of anthropology, describe the process of development that brought these basic sciences together, and study how they are applied in different countries. Scope of Legal Anthropology according to Koentjaraningrat:

  • The history of the emergence and development of humans as social beings
  • The history of the emergence of various color differences in human physical characteristics
  • The divisions and differences of human language
  • The development and spread of human culture
  • Basic cultural differences of people

In anthropology, the human (social) dimension includes physical development. Where physical development is interested in the physical side of a person. This includes research on the genes that determine the structure of the human body. You see the evolution of humans from when humans appeared on earth to where humans are today. Several physical anthropologists became known for their fossil discoveries that helped provide information about human evolution. Other physical anthropologists are known for their forensic skills; They assist by presenting their opinions at court hearings and assisting authorities in investigating murders.

Meanwhile, the specific scope of human culture (society) is more directed at human behavior. In anthropology it is more often referred to as cultural anthropology, which is related to what is often referred to as ethnology. This science studies human behavior, both individual and group behavior. The behavior learned here is not only the actions that can be observed with their eyes, but also what is going on in their minds.

In humans, this behavior is dependent on learning. What they do is the result of learning that people have gone through in their lives, whether they realize it or not. They learn to behave by imitating or learning from generations and also from the natural and social environment around them. Anthropologists call this culture.

Meanwhile, according to Satjipto Rahardjo, the scope of legal anthropologists is quite broad, including:

  • What institutions serve courts and mediation in the community?
  • On what basis are these bodies authorized to carry out their duties related to dispute resolution tasks?
  • Which disputes may require litigation and which negotiations? What functions and ecosystems work in legal proceedings?
  • What procedures are used in the specific circumstances for each type of dispute?
  • How is this decision implemented?
  • How have laws changed?


This is a brief discussion of the definition of legal anthropology. The discussion this time does not only discuss the definition of legal anthropology, but also further discusses the opinions of experts regarding the theory they put forward and knows the current scope of legal anthropology.

Understanding the meaning of legal anthropology gives us additional knowledge about various legal products contained in scientific studies and their relation to public relations.

Thus a review of the notion of legal anthropology. For Matobers who wants to learn all about the meaning of legal anthropology. And other law-related knowledge, you can visit to get related books.