Legal Pluralism and Development: Scholars and Practitioners in Dialogue

By Michaels, Ralf | Law & Society Review, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Legal Pluralism and Development: Scholars and Practitioners in Dialogue


Michaels, Ralf, Law & Society Review


Legal Pluralism and Development: Scholars and Practitioners in Dialogue. Edited by Brian Z. Tamanaha, Caroline Sage, and MichaelWoolcock. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 270 pp. $ 99.00 cloth.

This collection of essays (some of them previously published in the Hague Journal on the Rule of Law) emerges from a 2010 workshop organized by the "Justice for the Poor" initiative in the World Bank. The book, like the workshop, brings together scholars and practitioners (a dichotomy curiously maintained even in the list of contributors). The hope, expressed in the excellent introduction by Caroline Sage and Michael Woolcock (a version of which had been circulated to the conference participants in preparation) was to initiate a dialogue to instill better mutual knowledge.

Indeed, some contributions to the book suggest that the classic definition of legal pluralism as the coexistence of plural laws in the same social space, and the ensuing discussion in scholarship, are still not yet universally known. Daniel Adler and Sokbunthoeun So, in their paper, confine "law" to state law and discuss how state law is sometimes not effective. David Kinley discusses, as pluralism, varieties of human rights law between states, but not interaction with non-state law. Varun Gauri does adopt the classical definition, but his list of shortcomings of non-state law-substantive defects, lack of enforcement power, lack of publicity-still uses an idealized vision of state law as the yardstick.

Appropriately, several other chapters are conceived largely as brief introductions into legal pluralism made for non-experts. William Twining even calls his chapter "Legal Pluralism 101" and provides a highly sophisticated analytical survey. Sally Merry gives a very lucid and succinct introduction to legal pluralism, legal culture, legal consciousness and legal mobilization, from the lens of anthropology, and links this with the concrete example of women's courts in Gujarat. Lauren Benton presents the historical link between pluralism and Empire/colonialism. Brian Tamanaha and, somewhat more systematically, Gordon Woodman, link more explicitly the two topics of the book and invite development practitioners both to take pluralism more seriously as a concept and to view it with less suspicion as a phenomenon. Julio Faundez shows how such rather theoretical considerations play out in a wide variety of contexts. Christian Lund points out that institutional pluralism exists also between state institutions, and shows this in the example of property rights in Niger. Meg Taylor and Nicholas Menzies apply academic insights faithfully (perhaps too much so) to the example of mining.

Fortunately, most authors reject the simple question whether legal pluralism is a problem or an opportunity, and respond either with "yes and no" or assert that legal pluralism represents simply the background conditions against which development agencies operate (thus Patrick Glenn). …

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