Dislocating custom

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8 Citations (Scopus)


This article approaches the relationship between the categories of custom and law by means of an experiment with cartographic metaphors of scale and location. In Papua New Guinea, the relationship of custom to law is configured by the canonization of custom (the concept as it is known in studies of legal pluralism) in the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea and in the Underlying Law Act 2000. However, the status of this universalizing category is complicated by its relationship to the putatively local category of kastom, as it is known throughout Papua New Guinea. I argue that the two categories, custom and kastom, do not share an equivalent relationship to law because they occupy different levels of scale. In the discourses of legal elites, custom encompasses kastom. Whereas for many “smaller-scale” ethnic and language groups within the country, kastom and law are simply two potential categories of efficacious action, among many others, in highly specific and localized “mixes.” These mixes lose their intelligibility when elites attempt to replicate them at the level of the state.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91–107
Number of pages16
JournalPolitical and Legal Anthropology Review
Issue number1
Early online date28 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • Custom
  • Scale
  • Hierarchy
  • Papua New Guinea


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