Law's rule - Liberia and the rule of law

Oil painting of people against a background of primary colours

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Thursday 31 March 2016


Seminar Room 1.13, Coombs Extension Building (8), Fellows Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Shane Chalmers


+61 (0)2 6125 3948

Law’s rule is animated by an irresolvable contradiction. By definition ‘the rule of law’ is opposed to ‘the rule of humans’; and yet law remains an inter-subjective phenomenon, enlivened by the very humans over whom it would rule. Thus the rule of law, set against the rule of humans, cannot be instituted in a way that finally separates law from its subjects.

This problem with the rule of law is a familiar one. In political theory, it underlies the paradox of how both law-maker and made-law can be sovereign at the same time. In legal theory, it underlies the concern over how judges, as the last instance or ultimate authority of law, can render impartial, dispassionate—objective—legal decisions, in service of the rule of law. For sociologists and anthropologists, and those working in the fields of peace-building and development, it underlies the debate over how to institute a legal order that upholds the rule of law in a situation of legal pluralism.

In addressing this problem, the thesis takes up the challenge set down by Desmond Manderson in Kangaroo Courts and the Rule of Law: to take seriously the contradiction in the rule of law as its animating condition. Rather than see the contradiction as a problem to be resolved, or as a fatal flaw, the thesis approaches it as the very index of the life of law’s rule.

Thus it is by asking the question, what takes place in the rule of law?, and more specifically, what is taking place in the rule of law in Liberia?, that the thesis undertakes a study of the life of law’s rule in a country that is on the frontline of the global spread of powerful ideologies. With Theodor Adorno’s negative-dialectical philosophy as intellectual guide, and based on fieldwork carried out in Liberia and the United States, the thesis examines how these ideologies—above all capitalism—inform the rule of law, and how the rule of law provides a medium for them to take place.

About the Speaker

Shane Chalmers studied law and international studies as an undergraduate at the University of Adelaide between 2004 and 2010, with a year visit at the University of California, Los Angeles. During this period, Shane interned with the Centre for International Environmental Law in Washington, DC, and later with the United Nations Development Programme’s Regional Centre in Bangkok in the area of indigenous peoples rights and development in Asia and the Pacific.

Completing his legal training, Shane worked in 2010 for the Crown Solicitor’s Office of South Australia in the administrative law and regulatory prosecutions section, whilst working as research assistant to the Solicitor-General of South Australia. In 2011, Shane moved to Montreal to undertake a Master of Laws in comparative law and cross-cultural jurisprudence at McGill University, culminating in a critical theoretical reflection on the work of human rights internationally. Inspired by his time at McGill, Shane began his PhD at the ANU in 2012.

For more information on Shane, visit his RegNet profile.

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