Area Studies and the Decolonisation of Comparative Law: Insights from Alternative Southeast Asian Constitutional Modernities
Like “philosophy”, constitutional law is a disguised form of area studies that should more adequately be called “Western” or “Euroamerican” constitutional law. In this field, as in many others, the international division of academic labour reveals hierarchical power-knowledge relations: the theoretical West produces knowledge about the empirical Rest, understood as a “reservoir of raw data”. Here, area studies reveals its counterhegemonic potentialities. By offering a safe space for non-Western-centric discussion, it opens the possibility of theorising from the South. For constitutional law, this means theorising alternatives to Western liberal constitutionalism in their own, normative, terms, so as to apprehend Islamic, Buddhist, communitarian or transformative constitutionalisms as equally “valid” types of modern constitutional ordering. This paper calls for a deeper engagement between area studies and comparative law scholars seeking to reflect on alternative modernities. It first sketches a brief overview of the history of comparative law as a discipline, then looks at the contribution of area studies to the deconstruction of “legal orientalism” and finally suggests three areas in which Southeast Asian modes of constitutional ordering might well offer images of the possible futures of Western constitutionalism.
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