New article by Susanne Verheul analyses 'sensory politics' of courts in Zimbabwe

10 December, 2020

A new article by Susanne Verheul analyses how state power and authority were established and critiqued through the performative, material, and sensory characteristics of Harare's Criminal Magistrates’ Courts in Zimbabwe.

Drawing on courtroom observations and interviews conducted with human rights lawyers and their clients between 2010 and 2018, this article shows how Zimbabwe's deteriorating political and economic situation after 2000 caused a decline of the material conditions in court. Lawyers and their clients played on this decline to emphasise how the state failed to display its authority. Simultaneously, these material conditions highlighted the ruling party's (ZANU‐PF) preoccupation with law's coercive rather than legitimating utility.

A focus on material attributes, however, does not suffice in examining the ways in which court proceedings impose and challenge the authority of the law and of the state. The sensory dimensions of courtrooms also require attention. Within the courtroom, it was vital for actors to engage the visual, auditory, and—importantly—the olfactory reminders of the horrific conditions in police detention and prison. By doing so, lawyers and their clients reasserted and questioned not only the authority of law but also the control certain state actors exerted on and over the bodies and emotions of Zimbabwean citizens within legal spaces.

Susanne Verheul (2020) '“Rotten Row is Rotten to the Core”: The Material and Sensory Politics of Harare's Magistrates’ Courts after 2000', PoLAR, DOI: 10.1111/plar.12376