Contesting expertise: Anthropologists at the Special Court for Sierra Leone

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This article examines how social anthropologists' expertise was employed in the international war crimes trials heard at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. It tracks how the anthropologists challenged the prosecution experts by raising concerns about their methodology and advancing a fundamental critique of abstract legal categories. The discussion between the experts centred on two contested issues: the character of the armed groups and the phenomenon of forced marriages during the civil war in Sierra Leone. The analysis of the experts' testimonies shows that the anthropologists were engaged in an epistemological contest with the prosecution experts. The article aims at understanding why the anthropologists' arguments had less resonance with the judges than the reports submitted by the prosecution experts. Beyond the courtroom, it also speaks to the general debate about expertise and ways to study it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-444
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number3
Early online date28 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2014


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