The Impact of Intercultural Legal Discourse upon Anglo-American versus Navajo Criminal Legal Theory

Janet Brewer [1] 

DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.10207888

[1]  Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice & Sociology, Department of Anthropology, Criminal Justice & Sociology, Governors State University, University Park, IL USA.


Despite the desire for clarity, legal discourse is often unclear, leading to controversial interpretation. Moreover, the cultural dimension of legal discourse is rarely addressed, despite its importance in the interpretation of laws. This study examines the impact of legal culture on how legal principles are perceived and executed. Disparities emerge from long-standing cultural norms that influence the meaning of fundamental legal terminology. These legal phrases and concepts defy straightforward English understanding. Examples include the Latin word mens rea, which underpins both criminal and penal theory in Anglo-American law. Another example is the Navajo term hózhó from which all conceptualizations of social order emanate. Through an examination of conflict of laws as to U.S. federal courts and tribal law, this study aims to highlight the impact that legal culture has on the way legal concepts are understood and implemented. This case reveals an overlooked intimate relationship between law and culture.

Keywords: legal discourse, legal anthropology, punishment theory, mens rea, Navajo tribal law, hózhó


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