Criminal Legalities in the Global South

08 Jul to 09 Jul

Coordinators: Pablo Ciocchini (University of Liverpool, United Kingdom), George Radics (National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Description of the meeting

Criminal law, and the institutions in charge of interpreting it, bring constitutional protections enshrined in the law to life. Institutions such as the police, the public prosecutor office, and the courts are meant to deliver justice, rehabilitate offenders, and prevent crime. Many times in the Global south, however, nations are unable to deliver such services effectively. Minorities in particular are often times affected even more, disproportionately suffering from stigmatization and, sometimes, outright discrimination. While this situation arguably exists in the Global North, it is aggravated in the Global South by factors such as the legacy of colonial experiences, authoritarian governments, extreme inequality, and neo-liberal economic policies of the state.

This workshop engages both traditional and modern approaches to the study of deviance. From Howard Becker’s (1963) influential work Outsiders that inspired a generation of scholars aiming to explore how deviant labels are socially constructed, to Alexander Liazos’ (1971) call to move beyond the labels of “nuts, sluts, and perverts” and return to an examination of structural issues that underpin such labels, this edited volume engages these approaches while tackling the issues discussed by more contemporary scholars working on the Global South. Issues such as how knowledge is produced in the South (de Sousa Santos, 2014, 2018), law and disorder are understood and quantified in the postcolony (Comaroff and Comaroff, 2006), and the punishment of the poor in the South (Wacquant, 2009) are but a few works that inform the theoretical framing of this book. These more contemporary scholars cited have in particular emphasized the role of law in the Global South, a situation arguably more complicated than in the Global North.

Furthermore, building upon the success of our first edited book, Criminal Legalities in the Global South: Cultural Dynamics, Political Tensions, and Institutional Practices (Routledge, 2019), this workshop pursues the same agenda of addressing the gap between criminal law in the books and criminal law in action in the Global South. In our previous work, we defined criminal legalities as the symbols, signs, and instantiations of formal law’s classificatory impulse and the social products, generated in the course of virtually any repetitive practice of wide acceptance within a specific locale is the framework we use in this project.

An explicit assumption of this workshop is that the type and level of structural, organised and interpersonal violence under which criminal law operates in the Global South is different from how it operates in the Global North. Comaroff and Comaroff have argued that economic and political changes suffered in the Global South “have had unintended, highly destabilizing effects on the fragile political and economic arrangements—on the ecologies of patronage, redistribution, and survival—that developed in many nation-states across the global south with the end of the high age of colonialism.” (2006, 4). Carrington et al. (2016) points out that neoliberal approaches developed in the Global North to explain its own “punitive turn”—mass incarceration, racialized policing, and decline of the emphasis on rehabilitation—cannot fully explain the developments in the Global South. Furthermore, police are used to operate autonomously without a proper oversight by the civil society. This even more serious considering the widespread claims of police brutality and corruption in countries from the Global South (Hinton and Newburn, 2009; Auyero and Sobering, 2017). But despite the acknowledgment by the academic community of the ethnocentric bias on the analysis of the crime related phenomena that takes place in the Global South, there is a still a death of empirically based studies devoted to think those issues from a Southern perspective, i.e. from a perspective that seeks to understand those complex social phenomena without taking the dynamics of the North as the standard to measure them. This does not require to deny the potential explanatory power of theories developed in the North, but to take them with a cautiously healthy reflexive approach open to re-elaborate it based on the observations.

Although the Global South is not homogenous there are common experiences among people in those societies which have been shaped by macro factors, such as their colonial history and current geopolitics, as well as, regional factors such as cultural shared origins or religious belief. The workshop will help participants to identify and understand some of these common factors, but also to point out at differences among countries and the singularities of each society. The latter is particularly important to avoid the mystifying universalism in which the theory of the Global North sometimes falls, which hides the heterogeneity of populations in the name of a normalizing order and by doing this marginalize those who are not represented by such ‘universal’ image of society.

Our experience in Oñati

On 8-9 July 2021, Pablo Ciocchini (University of Liverpool) and George Radics (National University of Singapore) convened a group of scholars of the Global South to discuss the effects of Criminal Legalities in their respective contexts.  On the first day of the workshop, presentations revolved around the criminalization of fundamental rights, while on the second day, the discussions focused on the legitimation of state violence against subaltern groups.  The papers presented covered topics from abortion to corruption, and migration to drugs.  The countries discussed included Afghanistan, Brazil, Colombia, India, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Singapore, while the participants brought to the workshop their thoughts and experiences from all over the world.  Many of the observations that emerged during the workshop demonstrated a deep respect for the rights of the subaltern, recognition of patterns across the Global South, and reflected upon the urgent need to further investigate and hold accountable crimes by the state.   While some of the papers will be published in an upcoming edited book, a special issue will also be produced from the papers.  The convenors would like to thank all the participants for their active and inspiring comments, and look forward to working with each of them to further develop their papers for publication. For those interested in learning more about the workshop, or future projects associated with this group, please contact Pablo Ciocchini at or George Radics at     

For more information: 

Workshop Coordination Team

Avenida de la Universidad, 8
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20560 Oñati (Gipuzkoa) - Spain
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