Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Mapping Sexual Violence Laws: South African Cause Lawyers and the Global Diffusion of Legal Responses to Sexual Violence

The post-apartheid South African Constitution is among the most progressive in the world. The country's provisions for women and vulnerable populations follow suit; in the twenty-four years since the Constitution's enactment, South Africa has adopted some of the world's most expansive legal remedies for rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and reproductive violence. In light of their global leadership, it is curious that South African lawyers continue to reference older and narrower jurisprudence from the Global North. This "legal transport" from the Global North to South takes place routinely (Smythe 2005), despite the fact (a) when laws cross borders they seldom bring about their stated aims (Frank et al. 2007) and (b) the Global North has quite clearly not eliminated sexual violence in its own context. I want to map this curious legal transport. To do so I will build and analyze an archive of South African High and Constitutional court decisions on sexual violence cases since the end of apartheid (1994 – 2018). Using this novel archive as fodder, I will then conduct "relational biographical" interviews with forty lawyers from across South Africa working to build precedent-setting legal responses to sexual violence. I interrogate (1) Under what circumstances South African lawyers cite jurisprudence from the Global North to fashion legal responses to rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and reproductive violence; (2) Why lawyers in the Global South cite Global North jurisprudence; (3) How South African lawyers resist, subvert, or challenge incentives and influences from the Global North; and more generally (4) the Global North's influence legal imagination in the Global South. This interdisciplinary, mixed-methods project contributes methodologically to sociological investigation of professionals and global norm diffusion, as well as substantively to the field's knowledge about (South) Africa, the law, colonialism, and sexual violence.