Boycott, Resistance and the Law: Cause Lawyering in Conflict and Authoritarianism

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This article draws on an international comparative research project (involving fieldwork in Cambodia, Chile, Israel, Palestine, Tunisia and South Africa) to examine the role of cause lawyers in conflicted or authoritarian contexts where the chances of legal victory are often minimal. Framed within the literature on cause lawyers, resistance, performance, memory studies and legal consciousness, the paper focuses on the ways in which cause lawyers sought to challenge and subvert power. The first part explores the perspectives of cause lawyers who decided to boycott legal proceedings, the relationship between such boycotts and broader social and political struggles, the relevant external variables, and the intersection between legal boycotts, legitimacy and law in such settings. The second part examines why and how cause lawyers engage in the legal process as an act of resistance including using courts as sites of instrumental resistance (the ‘sand in the cogs’), transforming courts into sites of symbolic resistance, and using law as a form of memory work. The paper argues that both boycott of and resistance through the courts are designed to counter the use of law as an instrument of wickedness and as a tool of denial, and to preserve a ‘stubborn optimism’ in the rule of law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-104
Number of pages36
JournalModern Law Review
Issue number1
Early online date11 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2022


  • cause lawyers
  • boycott
  • resistance
  • legitimacy
  • Transitional justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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