In Defence of Culture? Racialised Sexual Violence and Agency in Legal and Judicial Narratives


There is a rich body of work in critical race and feminist theories that have criticised as Euro/Anglo-centric, and hence exclusionary, the liberal foundations of Western democratic legal systems. The basis of such critiques is that legal personhood is premised on an atomistic individual agent that purports to be neutral but in actuality reflects and maintains the hegemonic gendered and raced status quo privileging the white, middle to upper-class man to the exclusion of women and all racial and cultural Others. Some approaches, such as cultural defences in criminal law, have sought to address this via a recognition and incorporation of the difference of Other groups and their different moral norms, proclivities and circumstances. To illustrate, this discussion will draw on a cultural defence that was advanced in a series of group sexual violence cases that involved four Pakistani, Muslim brothers. While concluding that culture permeates the actions of all individuals, this article seeks to show how cultural recognition approaches in law often overlook the individual agency of those differentiated through their racial, ethnic and religious visibility. Instead of asserting the primacy of individual free will and a rational agent as the main driver of criminal behaviour cultural defences, in particular, appear to attribute criminal action to the morally aberrant traditions and practices of non-Western cultures. At the same time, such approaches to cultural recognition fail to acknowledge that culture, and not just the culture of Others, is necessarily the backdrop for all (group) sexual violence. With these points in mind, the paper ends with some suggestions for accommodating alternative narratives that seek to avoid the reductive scripts that currently appear to characterise legal and judicial musings on culture

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Published: 2015-10-05
Pages:57 to 72
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How to Cite
Dagistanli, S. (2015) “In Defence of Culture? Racialised Sexual Violence and Agency in Legal and Judicial Narratives”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 4(3), pp. 57-72. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v4i3.254.