25 February 2013

RIP: Franz von Benda-Beckmann

We received the following sad news recently from the Commission for Legal Pluralism

Franz von Benda-Beckmann died unexpectedly in Amsterdam on 7 January 2013. His death is a great loss to those of us in the legal anthropology community.

He was one of the most influential international scholars in the field of legal anthropology and was an early member and long-time supporter of the Commission on Legal Pluralism. During his prolific career, he produced 29 edited books and volumes, and more than 266 articles, reviews, commentaries and invited lectures. Many of these were coauthored with his wife, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, also a prolific scholar. He wrote and co-edited several books on issues of property rights, social (in)security, and legal pluralism in developing countries and on legal anthropological theory. Recent influential volumes include: with Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and Julia Eckert “Rules of Law and Laws of Ruling” (Ashgate 2009); with Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and Anne Griffiths “Spatializing Law” (Ashgate 2009); with Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and Anne Griffiths “The Power of Law in a Transnational World” (Berghahn 2009); with Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and Melanie G. Wiber “Changing Properties of Property” (Berghahn 2006); with Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, “Social Security between Past and Future: Ambonese Networks of Care and Support” (LIT Verlag 2007). He was a wonderful mentor and the thesis supervisor of many leading scholars in legal anthropology, particularly in the expanding field of legal pluralism. 


Franz was born in 1941 and educated in the Gynmasium in Kiel.  After leaving school he studied law in Munich, Lausanne, and Kiel. After obtaining his first law degree at the High Court in Schleswig (1967), he went to Malawi for eleven months of field research on legal pluralism. In 1970, he obtained his PhD in law with his dissertation Rechtspluralismus in Malawi: Geschichtliche Entwicklung und heutige Problematik (Legal Pluralism in Malawi: Historical development and contemporary problems) at the University of Kiel. Between 1968 and 1972, he did practical legal training (Referendardienst) and obtained his second law degree at the High Court of Hamburg in 1972. In October 1972, he moved to Zurich together with his wife, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, born Droogleever Fortuijn. He worked as an assistant at the Seminar for Social Anthropology of the University of Zurich. In 1974 and 1975, Keebet and he carried out sixteen months field research in West Sumatra, Indonesia, among the Minangkabau. His research focused on legal pluralism and property and inheritance. On the basis of this research, he obtained his Habilitation in Social Anthropology at the University of Zurich in 1979.

In late 1977 he moved to the Netherlands where he first worked at the University of Leiden, heading a small research institute dealing with law in the former Dutch colonies. In 1981, he was appointed professor for law and rural development in developing countries. In 1985 and 1986, Keebet and he carried out research in the Moluccas on rural social security and resource rights issues under conditions of legal pluralism. In the 1990s, they carried out legal anthropological research training courses for researchers working on water rights and management in India and Nepal, sponsored by the Ford Foundation. They also managed a larger research project on legal complexity, ecological sustainability and social (in)security in Indonesia.

In 2000, Keebet and he moved to Halle to establish and head the project group Legal Pluralism at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology together. In 2002 he was appointed Honorary Professor for Ethnology at the University of Leipzig and in 2004, Honorary Professor for Legal Pluralism at the University of Halle.

He served on many key advisory bodies. These included: the Advisory Council of the Social Science Research Council for the Tropics (1981-1988); the Dutch Steering Group of the Cultural Agreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia (1985-1992); IUAES Commission on Folk Law and Legal Pluralism (1981-2013); Executive Body of the Commission (1995-2013); Chairman of the Dutch-Belgian Association for the Social-Scientific Study of Law (1987-1999); the General Board of the Royal Institute for Anthropology and Linguistics, Leiden (1980s-1990s). He also served as associate editor for the Journal of Legal Pluralism, and on the Advisory Board for Law, Social Justice and Global Development (electronic law journal, Warwick University); Journal of REaD (Resources, Energy, and Development), New Delhi; the Australian Journal of Asian Law; the International Journal of Law in Context; Consulting editor of FOCAAL, European Journal of Social Anthropology.

Together with Keebet, Franz was part of the group that established the Commission on Legal Pluralism. They have remained involved in various capacities up to the present day. Franz’ ideas, suggestions and energy will be missed sorely in the Commission, whereas to many individual members his loss is that of a good friend.

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