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Appeals to the existence of “legal pluralism” have become very common in recent years. The term is now applied to a very wide range of phenomena including Indigenous reconciliation; international law; the self-regulation of transnational economic actors; the accommodation of religious difference; administrative law; access to justice; and alternative dispute resolution. Legal pluralism refers to the co-existence of more than one legal order in the same (or overlapping or interacting) social space. It is not so much a theory as the realisation that we live in a legally plural world and that we had better understand that world and how to navigate within it.
It is like comparative law, but radicalised:
a) it takes seriously legal orders that are not the product of state action, emphasizing that law emerges through human interaction generally and not merely by state decree; and
b) it emphasises that legal orders are constantly interacting and that good legal analysis needs to explore how they interact and how we, as legal actors, ought to respond in consequence.
Given the very different areas of law in which legal pluralism is invoked, we are left to wonder whether the term is used to refer to the same phenomena. The conceptual resources used to explain and navigate those areas – even the significance attached to legal orders – can be very different in different fields.
In this subject, we will move back and forth between practical contexts and legal theory, examining the central ideas of legal pluralism, studying how they are applied in several key areas, and considering the concept’s utility, insights, and limitations.
Principal topics will include:
- The meaning of “legal pluralism”, its key texts, and its place within legal theory and legal argument.
- The use of the concept in practice across several key areas, including Indigenous reconciliation, the recognition and role of norms generated by supra-national economic entities, religious difference, and administrative law.
- Assessments of the value, effectiveness, and limitations of the concept.
- Assessments of the ways in which the concept can be best developed to ensure that we navigate effectively within our legally plural world.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject should be able to:
- Critically assess and discuss the key elements and nuances of legal pluralism as a theory.
- Discern the role and limitations of legal pluralism across several key areas of law, including administrative law, international economic regulation, Indigenous reconciliation, and the accommodation of religious diversity.
- Critically evaluate the arguments made by socio- economic and legal actors within the framework of legal pluralism.
- Recognise the inherent value of the concept of legal pluralism and appraise its potential for being deployed and developed to better understand and operate in diverse legal contexts.
Last updated: 10 November 2023