Law as Metaphor

From Islamic Courts to the Palace of Justice

By June Starr

Subjects: Islam
Paperback : 9780791407820, 243 pages, October 1991
Hardcover : 9780791407813, 243 pages, January 1992

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents






A Note on Orthography


I. The Historical Context: From Kadi Courts to the Palace of Justice

1. The Search for a New Society
2. Seriat and Kanun: Islamic Law and Secular State Law

II. From Ottoman to Modem Times: The Restructuring of Social Space and Social Relations

3. Land Transformations
4. Bodrum—One Hundred Years of Solitude
5. Gender and Family Transformations

III. The Development of Secular Law

6. Managing Disputes at the Village Level: Cultural and Legal Forms
7. Judicial Decision-Making in District Courts
8. The Continuing Dialectic

Appendix I. Chronology of Uprisings Against the Ottoman Empire and Significant Events in the Formation of the New Republic

Appendix II. Turkish Rural Law Enforcement Agents

Selected Glossary

Laws, Statutes, and Codes




This book explains the growth of secular law in a Middle East nation, revealing it to be the product of elite competition over control of the state, a competition the secular elites won in Turkey when Ataturk set up the new Republic. The author demonstrates the great extent to which secularism dominates the discourse of Turkish conflict resolution by the mid-1960s. Her work exemplifies the uses of empirical field research set within a historical context.

June Starr is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and is currently on leave to Stanford Law School where she is pursuing a J. D. Degree.


"The central puzzle of the work is the strongly secular contemporary character of Turkish legal processes and how the system could have emerged in this way given the weight of the Islamic past. This book puts into action the relatively new realization among legal anthropologists that historical issues must be made central to our accounts. Starr makes an extended foray into the daunting complexity of the Ottoman past for the purpose of advancing her contemporary local-level understanding. An instructive tension is developed between empire/national and provincial realities and between historical and ethnographic data.

"It is most important that we have anthropological works interconnecting macro and micro views. Starr has been a leader in the recent exploration of new ways to address multileveled realities and complex histories. It represents a contribution both to legal anthropology and to area studies concerned with Turkey and the Middle East." — Brinkley Messick, Brandeis University

"Professor Starr is one of the pioneers in the field of legal anthropology. This gives her a refreshingly new slant on the history of modern Turkey. The topic is highly significant, for law has always formed the core of Islamic civilization, and Turkey has thus far been the only Islamic state to have become secular." — Pierre Oberling, Hunter College