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Project History

The Project on Autocratic Legalism is a multi-component initiative gathering a network of scholars primarily from the Global South conducting research on autocratic legalism as well as monitoring transnational efforts to combat authoritarianism.

Currently, PAL operates as an International Research Collaborative (IRC) within the Law and Society Association and was selected as the inaugural topical laboratory in the Association’s Global Collaboration Program (GCP).


In 2019, scholars from the Global South, inspired by Kim Scheppele’s 2019 Law and Society Association (LSA) Presidential Address on “constitutional assassinations”, began discussing collaboration on the uses and abuses of law by autocrats to consolidate power––and resistances to such moves. In her earlier essay, which became well-read and cited, the former LSA president had conceptualized this issue as autocratic legalism (Scheppele, 2018). This concept ignited a series of debates with and among Global South scholars, who labeled their initiative the Project on Autocratic Legalism (PAL). Read more here

In 2020, scholars engaged in debates sparked by Kim Scheppele’s presidential address submitted a successful proposal for an International Research Collaborative on Autocratic Legalism in Brazil, India, and South Africa. International Research Collaboratives (IRCs) are groups of law and social science researchers that undertake sociolegal research projects with a global reach. This IRC initiative, dubbed PAL-BISA, brought together a broad team of researchers and an Expert Advisory Committee featuring Kim Scheppele, Rick Abel, Bojan Bugaric, Helena Alviar, and Siri Gloppen (“Mavens”). PAL is currently conducting in-depth studies in all three countries and on two fronts––producing country overviews (PAL-BISA 1, read more) and thematic, comparative studies (PAL-BISA 2, read more).

In 2021, PAL was selected as the inaugural 2021-22 Global Collaboration Project (GCP) Topical Laboratory – a pilot in intentional development of a permanent program for the expansion of socio-legal capacity worldwide. This pilot GCP project is designed both to illustrate the type of activities that should be supported by Law and Society Association’s Global Collaboration Program and provide experience in developing and carrying out such ventures. The project also gave rise to a Podcast (PALcast, read more and listen) and to an initiative to study transnational efforts to combat authoritarianism (read more).

Our website will continue to feature news on upcoming events, forthcoming scholarship, and project findings.  

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