When is a Haida sphinx: thinking about law with things


  • Genevieve Renard Painter McGill University, Montreal, Canada


materialism, law, things, Haida, Indigenous, jurisdiction, historical anthropology


The ‘law and . . .’ field of legal scholarship verges on consensus about the co-constitution between law and nearly everything else. Co-constitution raises questions about how to differentiate law from other things. The contemporary turn from words towards the material brings fresh perspective on these questions by suggesting that law’s differentiation is fabricated through materiality. This article considers whether and how material techniques that differentiate law might fabricate the difference of a thing not commonly understood by Western law as law. Its focus is an object created in Haida Gwaii in the late nineteenth century and now displayed in the British Museum. It shows that while techniques common to Western law differentiate this thing, competing materialities are also at work. Furthermore, jurisdictional choices are embedded in the fabrication of this thing’s difference. Understanding law as differentiated materially does not escape the social and jurisdictional forces that underpin how the matter of law comes to matter.