Refracting custom in Western Sahara’s quest for statehood

Published in Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 2015

Recommended citation: Wilson, A. (2015) Refracting custom in Western Sahara's quest for statehood. Political and Legal Anthropology Review.38 (1), pp. 72-90. .

This article argues that distinctions made by local actors between different legal and normative orders within a broad field of custom should receive greater analytical attention. Local distinctions within custom have sometimes been overlooked in scholarly emphasis on other distinctions, such as between custom and state law, or between custom and religious law. The significance of local distinctions within custom comes to the fore in the case of the liberation movement from Western Sahara, a disputed territory partially annexed by Morocco in 1975. In exile in Algeria, Western Sahara’s liberation movement has set up a state-like government that seeks international recognition as a state. In support of its efforts at state-making, the liberation movement has drawn on a longstanding local distinction within custom to produce a distinction between a‘rāf, construed as tribal laws to be erased, and ‘ādāt, construed as customary cultural heritage to be elevated.

Access to author’s accepted manuscript.