Decolonial Comparative Law

Decolonial Comparative Law

In 2019, Ralf Michaels (MPI Director) and Lena Salaymeh (École Pratique des Hautes Études – Paris Sciences et Lettres) established a long-term collaborative research project on decolonial comparative law (DeCoLa). Lena Salaymeh codirected the program until 2023.

Decolonial comparative law identifies how the matrix of modernity/coloniality structures the prevailing understanding of law and offers decolonial alternatives – with coloniality meaning not merely colonialism, but rather the totalizing and universalizing mode of thought that underlies modernity.

Conventional comparative law rests on epistemic assumptions that emerge from the modernity/coloniality matrix. This has multiple implications for a number of core assumptions or practices in comparative law: using the nation-state as a category of analysis, privileging secular law over religious law, viewing modern law as superior to precolonial and anticolonial legal traditions. Decoloniality seeks to overcome the centre-periphery structure – a key aspect of the modernity/coloniality matrix – through the concept of pluriversality, this meaning the legitimacy of multiple traditions and social orderings.

Rather than organizing comparative law around the objective of unifying or “modernizing” law, we advocate using comparative law to decolonize legal thinking and to create conditions for legal pluriversality. A decolonial analysis reveals the coloniality within conventional comparative law and thereby helps move beyond it.

Call for Papers

Decolonial comparative property law
4-6 November 2024 in Brasília (Brazil)

The call for papers is now closed. We are grateful for the great amount of submissions and will inform all applicants by April 14, 2024.

Following workshops dedicated to methodology (Witwatersrand 2020) and precolonial law
(Oxford 2022), the third Decolonial Comparative Law (DeCoLa) Workshop, to be held in Brasília, will focus on
decolonial approaches to comparative property law. Property is of central concern for decolonial
comparative law. Many of the assumptions of Global North property law—such as John Locke’s labour
theory of property—emerged in colonial contexts. In addition, neo-colonialism (in the form, for example,
of waste colonialism) continues to affect both private and public property in the Global South. Moreover,
coloniality propagates a notion of property as representing individual spaces of freedom; this notion excludes
alternative, non-Northern concepts such as communal ownership, stewardship, or the personhood of
rivers and mountains.


Here you will find a regularly updated bibliography on decolonial legal studies and decolonial theory: Bibliography


Publications by members of the program


Information on planned and past events can be found here.

Further information on the project

Around 40 international legal scholars and practitioners came together at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law from 4-8 July 2023 for the Decolonial Comparative Law Summer School to discuss the various contexts of as well as the methodological approaches to decolonial comparative law. more

Consciously or unconsciously, our modern world has been shaped against the backdrop of coloniality, with the result that coloniality serves as a dark flipside of modernity. Identifying and overcoming its implications has become a basic postulate in many academic disciplines. A long-term project of Institute Director Ralf Michaels looks to take similar steps in the field of comparative law. more

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