Max Planck Society

Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law

Media Information
Online version Handwörterbuch des Europäischen Privatrechts

Decolonial Comparative Law

Ralf Michaels (MPI Director) and Lena Salaymeh (Assoc. Prof. Tel Aviv Law and MPI Senior Research Fellow) establish a long-term collaborative research project on decolonial comparative law.


Decolonial comparative law both identifies how the matrix of modernity/coloniality structures prevalent understandings of law and offers decolonial alternatives. (Coloniality means not merely colonialism, but rather a totalizing and universalizing mode of thought that underlies modernity.)

Conventional comparative law rests on epistemic assumptions that emerge from the modernity/coloniality matrix and this has implications for a number of core presumptions 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 center-periphery structure, a key aspect of the modernity/coloniality matrix, through the concept of pluriversality, 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 dynamics of coloniality within comparative law and thereby helps move beyond them.

Call for Papers

The Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law (Hamburg) and the University of the Witwatersrand School of Law will host a one-day workshop on decolonial comparative law on 6 October 2020 at the University of Witwatersrand (Johannesburg).

The workshop precedes the International Academy of Comparative Law Thematic Congress on “Diversity and Plurality in Law,” which takes places 7-9 October in Pretoria (South Africa). (Our workshop is not connected to the International Congress and participation in our workshop is not limited to or dependent on attendance of the International Congress.)

The call for papers is available in English, French, German, and Spanish.

Mailing list

Please email if you would like to be added to our mailing list.



Contact person: Lena Salaymeh