Seminar – 10 November – Fernanda Pirie

November 2nd, 2015 by


Tuesday 10 November

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Fernanda Pirie

University of Oxford

Rules, Numbers, and Lists:
Legal Order in Historic and Contemporary Tibet

Law and legalism often seem elusive on the Tibetan plateau. Not only was there no institutionalised legal system in traditional Tibet, and hardly any general law-making, but even local rules and agreements were often barely legalistic. Many ostensibly legal documents, from those establishing general laws or monastic rules, to individual records and agreements, mixed the legalism typical of legal forms—the use of precise terms, abstract categories, and generalizing rules—with the very different language of metaphor, simile, and aphorism. Although such documents often appeal to Buddhism,  its deities and moral principles, this does not seem wholly to explain the appeal of imprecision, analogy, and concrete imagery in documents establishing tax regimes, property relations, and forms of debt bondage. In this presentation I seek to shed some light on these phenomena with an example from contemporary Amdo (eastern Tibet) where nomadic pastoralists still engage in blood feuds and appeal to both legalistic rules and elaborate, metaphorical rhetoric during the elaborate processes by which they settle conflict. I suggest that the contrast between the two ways of thinking about and describing the world—legalism and metaphor—reflects broader tensions between practices of discipline and defiant individualism in the lives of the nomads and in the history of their tribes. This might, in turn, reveal something about the role of law within wider Tibetan societies.