The Gift of Law: Greek Euergetism and Ottoman Waqf

Isin, Engin F. and Lefebvre, Alexandre (2005). The Gift of Law: Greek Euergetism and Ottoman Waqf. European Journal of Social Theory, 8(1) pp. 5–23.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1368431005046707

Abstract

Modern social and political thought has approached the questions of politics, law, and citizenship from the vantage point of a fundamental divide between the occidental and oriental, or archaic and modern, institutions. This article creates a concept, the gift of law, by staging two gift-giving practices as two historical moments: Greek euergetism and Ottoman waqf. While it is indebted to Mauss, our articulation of the gift of law also owes to the critical interventions of Jacques Derrida and Pierre Bourdieu, who emphasized non-voluntaristic and non-calculative aspects of the gift. We argue that both euergetism and the waqf enabled and substantiated legal subjectivities that allocated rights and obligations. Those gift-giving practices establish relationships between various groups and legal authorities that were crucial in the formation of cities as spaces of government, for both citizens and non-citizens alike. With the concept ‘gift of law’, categories ‘oriental’ and ‘occidental’ become problematic. Modern social and political thought has approached the questions of politics, law, and citizenship from the vantage point of a fundamental divide between the occidental and oriental, or archaic and modern, institutions. This article creates a concept, the gift of law, by staging two gift-giving practices as two historical moments: Greek euergetism and Ottoman waqf. While it is indebted to Mauss, our articulation of the gift of law also owes to the critical interventions of Jacques Derrida and Pierre Bourdieu, who emphasized non-voluntaristic and non-calculative aspects of the gift. We argue that both euergetism and the waqf enabled and substantiated legal subjectivities that allocated rights and obligations. Those gift-giving practices establish relationships between various groups and legal authorities that were crucial in the formation of cities as spaces of government, for both citizens and non-citizens alike. With the concept ‘gift of law’, categories ‘oriental’ and ‘occidental’ become problematic.

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