george pavlich on criminal justice and legal personhood at the cape


George Pavlich, ‘Criminal Justice and Cape Law’s Persons’, Social Legal Studies (2013)

Expansive criminal justice arenas have for centuries been marked by tenaciously unequal representations of the race, class, ethnicity and gender of the subjects they capture and punish. Although the phenomenon has been analysed in several ways, this article focuses on the influence of criminal justice in an eclipsed dimension of colonial settings, namely, the political logic deployed to enunciate legal persons that simultaneously defined criminal law’s jurisdiction and objects of regulation. This politics is nicely illustrated by law directed at crimes at the Cape of Good Hope during extraordinarily unsettled times circa 1795, where unequal categories of legal personhood were assigned to those involved with crime. These categories were subsequently targeted for different intensities of legal force. Versions of this basic logic have resounded over the centuries; using the Cape’s rich archive as an illustrative example, one glimpses how differentiated conceptions of the legal person help to sustain inequalities that fuel the disproportions of many criminal justice institutions nowadays.

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