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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Harmony ideology and dispute resolution : a legal ethnography of the Tibetan Diaspora in India Duska, Susanne Aranka


Communitarianism and harmony ideology have their proponents and critics, particularly as viewed through the lens of conciliation-based dispute resolution. Both features being prominent in the Tibetan Diaspora in India, I hypothesized that the strengths and weaknesses of these orientations could be assessed through the rationale behind the norms of social control operative in the community, and the efficiency and effectiveness of those norms in terms of voluntary compliance. I found that the informal Tibetan mechanisms for dispute resolution were effective and efficient in supporting Indian systems of law enforcement, while allowing a ritualistic affirmation of community. Contrary to proponents of legal centralism and court justice, I found that liberalist values underpinning litigative process were disruptive of social expectations, and had the potential to exacerbate rather than relieve social tensions. The harmony norms that predispose pro-social behavior within Tibetan settlements failed to protect the interests of community members, however, when the challenge came from local Indian groups operating on the basis of their own standards of particularistic allegiance. Legal ethnography best describes the methodology used for this research. Fieldwork drew on: 1) Interviews with twelve settlement officers whose mandate specifically includes mediation of disputes; 2) In-depth interviews with two disputants fighting cases before the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission; and 3) Interviews with over 70 informants (including senior and mid-level exile government officials and settlement residents), together with archival material, to situate findings and verify interpretations. This research contributes a unique non-Western body of data in support of Law and Society scholars, such as Amitai Etzioni and Phillip Selznick, who have argued for devolution of law-like responsibilities to local levels where internalized norms are an everyday means of social control. It also argues against the pejorative interpretation of harmony ideology as depicted by legal centralists such as Laura Nader. By reframing harmony as a function of norm rationale, efficiency and effectiveness, the research offers new variables for assessing the costs and benefits of community. Finally, the Tibetan case studies provide an important comparative for cosmopolitan states that are debating how to accommodate diversity and legal pluralism.

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