LEGALPL – Legal Pluralism in the Portuguese Empire (18th – 20th centuries)


Project Summary

The aim of this project is to study the encounter between the Portuguese legal order and the native legal orders in the Portuguese overseas territories in the 18th – 20th centuries. The aim is to find out how these orders were classified, how they were used by colonizers and colonized, how they interacted and were transformed by colonial situations, in various chronologies.

Legal pluralism is a central theme in the historiography on empires, but the works dedicated to it in Portuguese historiography have privileged the doctrinal reflections of the colonial elites, and not the action of the local agents of colonial justice and the native populations involved. It is known, however, that the functioning of legal pluralism emerged from the social practices of these people, the administrators and the ‘subjects’ of colonial justice. Both used it strategically, drawing selectively on European and native norms and formulae, and creating, in these interactions, new, colonial versions of traditional African rights and Portuguese law. A more dynamic and complete understanding of legal pluralism in the Portuguese empire therefore requires that both dimensions, the central and the local, be observed simultaneously. We believe that this team, made up of researchers from different institutions and disciplinary areas (history, law, sociology), some of whom have published studies on the subject, has the conditions to do so in a multidisciplinary and innovative way.

The first level that we will consider is then the one where the colonial agents are located, in the metropolis and in the colonies (legislators, academics or judges and officials involved in the administration of justice). The second focus will be the recourse to colonial justice by native populations. Neither litigation in which the parties are European nor native legal orders that did not communicate with Portuguese justice will be the object of investigation. We will also map the overseas judicial structures during the period under consideration, as well as the agents of justice. Privileged sources will be legal doctrine, legislation, political debates, administrative and judicial reports, jurisprudence and ‘usos e costumes’ codes. The research will be guided by the following questions: how did the subjects involved strategically use pluralism? to what extent was the permeability of the native orders to European law and vice versa, and how did they mutually transform each other? Outputs of the project will be 2 monographs, 1 source script, articles in scientific journals, 2 international seminars and 1 website with bibliography, sources and images.

This work will result in a global vision of legal pluralism in the Portuguese colonies, which will allow, besides comparative studies with other empires, a better understanding of the role of law in multicultural and multiethnic societies, as well as an interdisciplinary dialogue between history, law and contemporary studies on citizenship in national and transnational contexts.

NOVA School of Law/CEDIS (Proposing Institution)
Institute of Social Sciences

List of Research Team Members
Ana Cristina Fonseca Nogueira da Silva (Head Researcher)
Ângela Maria Barreto Xavier (Co-responsible Researcher)
Ricardo Nuno Afonso Roque
Nuno Miguel de Moraes Pestana Tarouca Camarinhas
Luís Pedroso de Lima Cabral de Oliveira
Fernanda do Nascimento Thomaz
Mélissa Marie Frias
Samory Badona Monteiro
Maria da Conceição Moço Neto
Anabela Brízido
João Figueiredo
Yamê Paiva

36 months (from 1 September 2018 to 31 August 2021)

Funding entity: Foundation for Science and Technology
Amount of Funding: 213,527.35 euros


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