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Cause lawyering in conflicted, authoritarian and transitional societies: politics, professionalism and gender

The classical western sociological view of lawyers rested on claims to ‘political neutrality and social detachment’ (Sommerlad and Hammerslev 2020: 1). Building on the pioneering work of Abel and Lewis (1988a; 1988b; 1989b) this chapter employs an explicitly engaged variant ...

Published onApr 25, 2022
Cause lawyering in conflicted, authoritarian and transitional societies: politics, professionalism and gender
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Abstract

The classical western sociological view of lawyers rested on claims to ‘political neutrality and social detachment’ (Sommerlad and Hammerslev 2020: 1). Building on the pioneering work of Abel and Lewis (1988a; 1988b; 1989b) this chapter employs an explicitly engaged variant of the sociology of lawyers to explore the intersection between politics, professionalism and gender for cause lawyers. The bulk of the cause lawyering scholarship that has emerged in the last thirty years has drawn from the experience of settled democracies and so we begin with an overview of the key themes in that literature. Drawing on an international comparative research project on which we have all worked (involving fieldwork in Cambodia, Chile, Israel, Palestine, Tunisia and South Africa) we then focus on the particular challenges for cause-lawyers working in conflicted, authoritarian and transitional contexts. In an attempt to redress the disproportionate focus in the existing literature on male cause lawyers and ‘masculine’ causes we next consider the particular relationship between gender and cause-lawyering. Informed mainly by our interviews with female cause lawyers, we reflect on how gender affects professional identity as well as strategies, tactics and relations with social or political movements. We also look at the ways in which female cause-lawyers manage the paradoxical opportunities and challenges presented by conflict and transition and how they engage with competing understandings of struggle (e.g. the relationship between the gender equality movement and the struggle against apartheid or the Israeli occupation). To conclude we reflect on how cause lawyers strive, in exceptionally difficult circumstances, to reimagine, reshape and reconfigure the law.

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