Journal Article
Legal Empowerment and Group-Based Inequality

Legal empowerment has become widely accepted in development policy circles as an approach to addressing poverty and exclusion. At the same time, it has received relatively little attention from political scientists and sociologists working on overlapping and closely related topics – the rule of law, the functioning of judicial systems, property rights, labour politics, and business and governance, among others. Research on legal empowerment has been largely applied, with clearest grounding in the fields of law and economics.

This special issue speaks to this gap with contributions on six core areas of legal empowerment. This article frames the collection. It provides a brief introduction to legal empowerment and advances two broad arguments. First, an ethnic group-focused approach is a useful starting point in considering the impact of legal empowerment and other development interventions. Second, the state via the law contributes to ethnic inequalities in four broad ways – via its written laws, their implementation and actual practice, historical legacies of law and practice, and ethnic hegemony embedded in the system. Thinking about legal empowerment initiatives within this framework provides understanding both of their potential and their limitations.

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