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Rights of the Relational Self: Law, Culture, and Injury in the Global North and South

Although official law generally conceives of personal injury victims as individual rights holders, the actual experience of physical injury and its consequences is relational. Indeed, many researchers in the global North as well as the global South have contended that the very concept of the Self should be reconceptualized in relational terms.

David M. Engel
17 May 2018

A growing body of empirical data leads us to ask who is actually harmed when a physical injury occurs. Is the injured Self singular or plural? This lecture draws on research in Thailand and in the United States to suggest that tension between the relational experience of injury and the individualized remedies offered by official law creates a dilemma for injury victims who are potential claimants in both cultures. Although the dilemma is framed quite differently in Thailand and America, there are some striking similarities arising from the failure of Enlightenment models of individual legal subjects to track with the human experience of injury.

About David M. Engel

David M. Engel’s research explores law, culture, and society in Thailand and in America. In Tort, Custom, and Karma: Globalization and Legal Consciousness in Thailand (Stanford University Press, 2010), he drew on court records and ethnographic interviews with injury victims to trace the impact of global transformations on Thailand’s legal culture. In The Myth of the Litigious Society: Why We Don’t Sue (University of Chicago Press, 2016), he offered an empirically grounded explanation for the predominance of lumping among American injury victims. Engel is SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and a visiting professor at the Chiang Mai University Law School. A former President of the Law & Society Association, Engel has received both the LSA Article Prize and the Jacob Book Award, and in 2017 he was awarded the LSA’s Harry J. Kalven Prize. He is currently working on a project concerning injuries and the relational self.

Van Vollenhoven Lectures

The Van Vollenhoven lectures are organized in honour of Cornelis van Vollenhoven, the Leiden law professor who acquired fame between 1901 and 1933 for his elaborate and detailed description and analysis of the laws of the Netherlands-Indies as well as for his impressive contributions to public international law.

Previous lectures were delivered by: Dr Surya Tjandra (lecturer at the Law Faculty of Atma Jaya Catholic University and Jentera Law School, Jakarta, Indonesia) in 2017, Graham E. Fuller (former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, former senior political scientist at RAND, and adjunct professor of history at Simon Fraser University) in 2016, Dr Tom van den Berghe (senior researcher at the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV); Royal Netherlands Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) in 2015, Dr Fernanda Pirie (director of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford) in 2014, Irene Khan (Director-General of the International Development Law Organization) in 2013, Prof. Andrew Harding (Director of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies, National University of Singapore) in 2012, Dr Ben Knapen (then Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation) in 2011, Prof. Veronica Taylor (then Director Asian Law Centre, University of Washington, Seattle) in 2010, Profs. Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann (then directors of the Legal Pluralism Group of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle) in 2008 and Bert Koenders (then Minister for Development Cooperation) in 2007.

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