(2011) JLP 63: 231-262






Anne Griffiths




This article argues for the important role of social networks in legal pluralism contexts, and in doing so for the importance of moving beyond abstract assertions about law and legal processes. It is based on an in-depth study (2009-2010) of women’s access to and control over land in Botswana, within a legal pluralist context where the state is highly heterogeneous and where customary and statutory law administer land through varying institutions that derive their power from a constellation of sources. The article shows that a much higher proportion of women now gain formal customary land titles and certificates than was the case 25 years ago. This overall reflects that access to land is no longer influenced as much by gender as by “class”. The latter represents a constellation of factors that contribute to the accumulation of human, social as well as economic capital. While improvements in women’s access to land are partly owed to changes in land law, the role of Land Boards, and the influence of human rights NGOs, access to land is strongly influenced by social networks and informal transactions. What is crucial are the factors that contribute to the social networks that individuals can draw on, which have an impact on their capacity to negotiate poverty and access to justice in both formal and informal domains. Legal pluralism within this context reflects mutually constitutive processes that draw on and intersect with the social dimensions of everyday life. These insights ought to have an important bearing on the strategies of international development agencies’ focus on the linkages between poverty reduction, access to justice and property rights.