Universiteit Leiden

nl en

VVI Research Meetings 2022-2023

The Concept of Living Customary Law Revisited

Wednesday 7 June 2023
Kamerlingh Onnes Building
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden

In 2017, I critiqued scholars’ amorphous classification of African customary law into ‘official’ and ‘living’ versions. With emphasis on legal pluralism, I had redefined living customary law as “the law that emerges from people’s adaptation of customs to socio-economic changes.” My view of customary law has since changed to reflect the complex realities of globalisation. I never believed in the label of ‘official customary law.’ Now, I no longer believe in ‘living customary law.’ Informed by multi-country evidence, I conceptualise customary law as the practices observed by people from a sense of obligation. These practices are linked to people's adaptation of their precolonial behaviour to social and economic changes. Arguably, the intersectional nature of normative adaptations blurs any meaningful differentiation between ‘official’ and ‘living’ customary laws. My conceptualisation implies that precolonial customs, which are still observed in their ancient forms, constitute a different category of law. I classify this category as indigenous laws, highlighting how the radical socioeconomic changes brought by colonialism transform(ed) indigenous laws into customary laws. My re-conceptualisation of African customary law demonstrates the highly adaptive character of norms in societies that emerged from European colonialism in the past century. 

About Anthony C. Diala
Anthony C. Diala is an associate professor of legal pluralism in the Faculty of Law at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, and founding director of its Centre for Legal Integration in Africa. He has two decades of graduate experience in nineteen countries across four continents. He is a visiting professor at the University of Turin in Italy; a fellow of the Academy of Advanced African Studies at Bayreuth University, Germany; member of the Research Quality Plus College of Reviewers of Canada’s International Development Research Centre; member of the College of Senior Mentors of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, and member of the Advisory Committee on Matrimonial Property of the South African Law Reform Commission. Diala has received fellowships on African Customary Law and human rights from the American Council of Learned Societies; the Next Generation in Africa programme of the Social Science Research Council of New York; the Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden; the German Academic Exchange Service, and the South African National Research Foundation. Among others, he is on the editorial board of Legal Pluralism and Critical Social Analysis [formerly Journal of Legal Pluralism & Unofficial Law].

If you are interested in participating (online), please register here [please insert this link: https://forms.gle/SRyMx8CEsvaFRipy8].
For further inquiries, please contact

This website uses cookies.  More information.