LEGALPL: Legal pluralism in the Portuguese Empire (18th-20th century)


Project Abstract

This project aims to study the encounter between the Portuguese and indigenous legal orders in the Portuguese Empire, from the 18th to the 20th century. We want to know how these legal orders were classified, how they interacted and how they were used by colonizers and colonized peoples in different chronological periods, as well as the changes that occurred during the epoch under consideration.

Legal pluralism was a main issue in the doctrinal texts of the colonial elites, as Portuguese historiography has already shown. Nevertheless, there is evidence that legal pluralism in colonial situations and the solutions it engendered emerged from the social practices of those (administrators and subjects) involved. Therefore, we need to look to both of these instances, the legal reasoning by colonial agents at central and local levels and the agency of native subjects the way they appropriated Portuguese law, their versions of customary law. Not considering those impacted by the law, as Portuguese historiography has done until now, is missing elements that are critical to the understanding of legal pluralism in the Portuguese Empire, and the contexts in which it has evolved. This team, constituted by researchers from different institutions and areas (history, law, sociology), some of whom have already studied these subjects, will be able to fill this gap in a multidisciplinary and innovative way. Both institutions involved have research lines on colonial studies.

First, we will consider colonial agents of justice (legislators, colonial judges) and their activity. Then, we will focus on native people who applied to justice. We will not take into account cases involving just European parts, or native legal orders untouched by Portuguese presence. We will analyze political discussions, legislation, doctrinal texts, administrative and judicial reports, jurisprudence and codes of native uses and customs?. Our inquiry will be guided by some unifying questions: How high was the permeability of native and Portuguese law towards each other?; How were they both transformed by the colonial circumstances? How far did the strategic use of legal pluralismo by both the authorities and the subjects go?
To disseminate the results we will publish in national and international scientific journals and organize two international scientific events. At the same time, the construction of a website will provide information (sources, images) to a larger public. The main results of the project will be the website and 2 monographs.
Our work will provide imperial studies with a global vision of legal pluralism in the Portuguese Empire, and of the evolution of the former, creating the opportunity to make future comparative studies and providing a better understanding of legal dynamics in multicultural and multiethnic societies. This will enrich multidisciplinary dialogue between history and contemporary studies on national and transnational citizenship.




Faculdade de Direito da Universidade Nova de Lisboa/CEDIS
Instituto de Ciências Sociais (Participant Institution)


Project members

Ana Cristina Fonseca Nogueira da Silva (Leading Researcher)
Ângela Maria Barreto Xavier (Co-leading 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
Janaina Bueno de Araújo do Nascimento
PhD Researcher (to be hired)
Junior Researcher (to be hired)



36 months (1st September 2018/31st August 2021)



Funding Entity: Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

Funding Value: 213.527,35€