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Landscapes of the Law: Injury, Remedy, and Social Change in Thailand


  • Special thanks to Jaruwan Engel for her many contributions to the research on which this article is based and for her suggestions to improve the manuscript. Others who read earlier drafts and offered helpful comments included Irus Braverman, Roger DesForges, Rebecca French, Fred Konefsky, Frank Munger, Frank Reynolds, and Winnifred Sullivan. Funding for this study was provided by the National Science Foundation, grant no. SBR98-10372, and by the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy.

Please address correspondence to David M. Engel, School of Law, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, O'Brian Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260; e-mail:


Sociolegal theorists since Weber have postulated that state law operates by interacting with and responding to nonstate legal orders. This article, examining conceptions of injury and compensation in Thailand, analyzes two ways of mapping law onto the landscape. The first is associated with state law and legal institutions established at the turn of the twentieth century. The state legal system imagines space from the outside in, drawing a boundary line and applying law uniformly throughout the jurisdiction it has enclosed. A second type of mapping, which has been more familiar over the centuries to ordinary Thai people, imagines space from the inside out. Nonstate legal orders are associated with sacred centers and radiate outward, diminishing in intensity and effectiveness with distance. This article, based on extensive interviews with injured persons and other actors and observers in northern Thailand, examines the interconnections between these two ways of imagining the landscape of law. It suggests that recent transformations of Thai society have rendered ineffective the norms and procedures associated with the law of sacred centers. Consequently, state law no longer interacts with or responds to nonstate law and surprisingly plays a diminished role in the lives of ordinary people who suffer injuries.