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PIPE* Workshop: Volha Charnysh, MIT

May 4, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Dispute Resolution in Heterogenous Societies

Volha Charnysh, Assistant Professor of Political Science at MIT, will discuss her research on widespread legal pluralism in sub-Saharan Africa.

Discussant: Noah Nathan, University of Michigan

Traditional leaders, such as chiefs, have retained considerable powers even in states that abolished or weakened their positions upon gaining independence. Their influence is particularly strong in the domain of land rights adjudication and enforcement.

We ask how individuals choose between alternative legal systems and whether ethnic identity affects the preference for state courts over traditional authority in a land dispute. Using Afrobarometer Surveys, we find that respondents in more heterogeneous districts are more likely to identify state courts as responsible for dispute resolution and view chiefs as less influential. We further investigate whether ethnicity of parties to a dispute affects legal preferences using a series of online survey experiments in urban Ghana.

We confirm that forum shopping is common, but find that manipulating the ethnicity of litigants in a hypothetical land dispute does not always alter respondents’ recommendations for taking the disputes to court or to the local chief. At the same time, respondents generally perceive the traditional leaders as more biased and less effective at inducing compliance than the courts and are more likely to expect an unfair outcome when coethnics of the chief are involved.


May 4, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
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Bedrosian Center on Governance and Office of the Provost
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Bedrosian Center