CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Dr. Daniel Bonilla Discusses "The Political Economy of Legal Knowledge."

The Payson Center for International Development and the Center for Inter-American Policy were proud to host Dr. Daniel Bonilla Maldonado, Faculty of Law at the University of the Andes in Bogota, Columbia, for a discussion about “The Political Economy of Legal Knowledge.”

Dr. Bonilla, constitutional law scholar and author of several books, including Constitutionalism of the Global South (Cambridge University Press, 2013), presented an impressive body of research about the way that legal knowledge is generated, legitimized, and disseminated. Dr. Bonilla begins from the premise that legal knowledge is subject to a particular political economy—one that governs and channels the way that it is created and consumed.

Dr. Bonilla’s research is guided by two main objectives. First, he seeks to analyze a political economy model, termed the “free market of legal ideas,” which dominates our collective perception of the way that legal knowledge is created and distributed. This model is defined by rational actors generating and adapting existing legal knowledge to suit a particular time and place.

His second objective is to juxtapose this model with the “colonial model of legal ideas,” which he argues more accurately characterizes the political economy of legal knowledge. In the colonial model, as Dr. Bonilla argues, the Global North creates and exports legal knowledge and theory to the Global South. Any legal knowledge generated by the Global South, meanwhile, exists only on the fringes of global legal discourse. In this model, legal knowledge is subject to the same power dynamics that have long defined the global political economy. Legal knowledge—like political, economic, military, and cultural power—is a product of the Global North. The Global South receives this knowledge and applies it to its own social and political context, in an effort to emulate the Global North. To support his claims, Dr. Bonilla cites the influence of Roe v. Wade in the Global South and the relative lack of understanding of similarly important court cases that have taken place within the Global South.

Dr. Bonilla’s research sheds light on the way these two models interact, the way that the perception of the free market of legal ideas shelters the reality of the colonial model, and the way this dynamic affects the global market for legal knowledge.

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