Sally Falk Moore, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Anthropology, Emerita, has had a distinguished and multi-faceted career: as a staff attorney at the Nuremberg Trials; as the author of important studies of property and power among the Incas, and of land law and economic and political change in Tanzania; as a professor of anthropology at UCLA and Harvard; and as Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
On September 21, more than 80 lawyers, anthropologists, students and friends gathered at a symposium at Harvard Law School to honor Moore for her more recent work as an Affiliated Professor in International Legal Studies at HLS and her extraordinary service as a teacher and mentor to students in the HLS Graduate Program.
The symposium was designed to celebrate Moore’s writing and teaching by inviting colleagues to present current work at the intersection of law and anthropology. The program featured papers by Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff, Professors of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology at Harvard, and Richard A. Wilson, Gladstein Chair of Human Rights, Professor of Anthropology and Law, and Director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut. Janet Halley, Royall Professor of Law, and Jane Fair Bestor, Special Assistant to the Graduate Program, organized the event.
The Comaroffs presented the story of Khulekani Kumalo, a legendary Zulu folk musician who died in 2009. In early 2012, a South African man claiming to be Kumalo returned to the family home, saying that he had been a zombie captive and a victim of witchcraft. Fans and family members were deeply divided, his paternal kin supporting his claim and his maternal kin arguing that it was an attempt to steal the singer’s wealth. The Comaroffs discussed the relationship between imposture and other forms of “self-fashioning” and the economic and social shifts in post-colonial Africa, and the challenges that South Africa’s modern, constitutionally governed legal system faces in addressing cases like this one.
Wilson considered diverging perspectives on causality in law and social science, using claims about the role of radio broadcasts in inciting the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as a case study. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has made “robust claims about the direct, causal relationship between inflammatory speeches and subsequent public violence,” he noted, although studies by sociologists and economists question the broadcasts’ reach and effects. Wilson’s paper raised the question of how to account for these differences and whether the divergence between law and social science is a problem for the achievement of justice.
At a reception following the presentations, HLS Dean Martha Minow and graduate students who have worked with Moore toasted her contributions to their scholarship. Xiaoqian Hu, an S.J.D candidate studying the interplay between formal and informal land regimes in rural China, recalled enrolling in Moore’s class on “Law for Anthropologists, Anthropology for Lawyers” during her LL.M. year. “Strangely but wonderfully, although I knew very little about anthropology, I felt most at home in her class. The ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking that she imparted to us seemed so sensible, so personable, and so human. Later on in my writing, I felt connected to the subject I was researching, and I began to understand the people whom I was writing about. It was a transformation for me,” Hu said.
Several of Moore’s students mentioned how much her connection to sub-Saharan Africa affected their experience and studies at HLS . When she first met Moore, said Nkatha Kabira, an S.J.D. candidate from Kenya, “I walked in and (with a smile on her face) she stood up to welcome me. She said, ‘jambo, habari gani?’ which in Swahili means ‘hi, how are you?’ Her words brought me home.”
Writing from Burundi, Mekkonen Firew Ayano, an S.J.D. candidate, said,” When I came to Harvard Law School from Ethiopia, I never thought that I would find someone with first-hand knowledge of life in a village of East Africa. Our first conversations were like conversations with someone who had left my village a little earlier than me and just needed a little updating on how things have stood since then. … In every conversation I had with Professor Moore, I realized how far I could stretch the bounds of my legal imagination to understand social facts and processes of change in a society. What some people may call the unimportant and ordinary life of ordinary people, Professor Moore sees as an important lens to see the law.”