CfP: Forensics of Provenance: Colonial Translocations, through the Lenses of Legal Pluralism

CfP: Forensics of Provenance: Colonial Translocations, through the Lenses of Legal Pluralism

In recent years, debates about global justice in the wake of colonial wrongs have been held in public, academic, and legal forums. They have covered a broad range of issues, from the degradation of nature, systematic economic inequalities, and reparations for forced labor to the restitution of cultural heritage plundered, looted, or coercively acquired in colonial contexts. This workshop calls for original contributions to the restitution debate by framing the expropriation, acquisition, and return of material culture as historical and contemporary epistemic processes that create and erase local, regional, and global (normative) knowledge.

In colonial contexts, collecting was often associated with pillaging, genocide, or at least framed by structural violence and deeply asymmetric power relations. Beyond that also, colonial actors erased local laws and indigenous norms by actively opposing or neglecting them. The removal of the material culture dismantled local judicial infrastructures and indigenous or vernacular regimes of normative knowledge production (Duve 2020). These destructive interventions were accompanied by the codification of shifting normative understandings, the “invention of traditions” (Ranger 1983), and the assemblage and display of ethnographic collections in museums of the global North. Nevertheless, provenance studies seldom consider the full implications of collecting as a “jurispathic” act that “kills the law” (Cover 1983). The research lacuna in this field exists in our understanding because of the rare consideration of the colonized subjects’ normative knowledge and legal imagination due to a perceived lack of historical sources and the impact of disciplinary boundaries and specializations. On the contrary, our assessments of the legality of past expropriations and acquisitions and search for new legal answers are often solely grounded in European normative frameworks.

To address this issue, this workshop acknowledges the embeddedness of material culture in colonized contexts in a plurality of normative orders – not only in colonial times but also today. It proposes a shift in perspective by situating the translocations, such as the expropriation, acquisition, collecting, and restitution of objects within their broader legal historical context.


The working language of the conference will be English. The deadline for paper proposals (ca. 300-400 words, including the title of the contribution and a short CV) is July 15, 2023. The acceptance letters will be forwarded latest by August 1, 2023. Before the workshop, we ask for paper drafts from all participants before the workshop (ca. 15 pages) by January 7, 2024, to discuss them in the workshop. These contributions should eventually fit in an edited volume with a renowned publishing house.

This conference is interdisciplinary in nature and invites researchers across all disciplines and from all geographical backgrounds. Scholars from the global South are particularly encouraged to submit and apply for the conference. The costs for traveling and accommodation will be covered by the Käte Hamburger Kolleg “Legal Unity and Pluralism” at the University of Münster.

Käte Hamburger Kolleg
“Legal Unity and Pluralism”
University of Münster
Servatiiplatz 9
48143 Münster

Please send your proposals by email to both conveners:
Dr. João Figueiredo (Münster)
Dr. Sebastian M. Spitra (Vienna)

For more information you can read the flyer here.