Law Text Culture


In the wake of Ingold’s critique of ‘materiality’, one that highlights the cosmological assumptions about spirit and matter that the concept inscribes, I examine ‘material’ documents that record custom and indigenous knowledge on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea. Documents and books have a history there bound up with colonial governance and with missionisation, thus a strong connection with imposed ‘law’ in local understanding, yet the production and circulation of documents have also been a site of resistance to the imposition of outside forms of politics, law, and ‘knowledge’. Examining the documents they choose to make themselves makes us consider whether knowledge and law is something that exists ‘to be’ documented, or whether in fact, documentation (like initiation or gardening) may be where knowledge is ‘immanent’ (following Strathern’s recent formulation). Their documentation is ‘against’ knowledge in the image of a transcendental and universal commons, or a private possession. Focusing on their modes of making knowledge appear leads to a consideration of the performance of knowledge, the time and manner of its revelation and concealment, and of how different (cosmological) conceptions of ‘materials’ and process can be of interest in shaping a ‘legal materialist’ approach without a transcendent image of law.