Three recent examples of the application of transnational legal authority in Africa are examined. They show that what purports to be fixed and authoritative law is frequently quite contingent. Two of the examples are formal court cases, the third is the relationship between donors and receivers in a programme of economic development. The theoretical frameworks employed to address these instances include: (1) treating situational occurrences as diagnostic events; (2) taking a general processual approach to society, treating it as a continuously ongoing entity experiencing dynamic shifts and continuities; and (3) giving weight to the relevant semi-autonomous social fields, i.e. to the common non-governmental social fields which generate and enforce their own rules. These are enforceable norms that are not official laws. In all of these examples events are publicly presented as the application of laws and rules, yet it is obvious that unacknowledged political issues play a major role in the outcome.
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