Book

Legalism

Edited by Paul Dresch and Hannah Skoda

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199664269
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191744686 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199664269.001.0001
Legalism

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  • Comparative Law
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Law and law-like institutions are visible in human societies very distant from each other in time and space. When it comes to observing and analysing such social constructs historians, anthropologists, and lawyers run into notorious difficulties in how to conceptualize them. Do they conform to a single category of ‘law’? How are divergent understandings of the nature and purpose of law to be described and explained? Such questions reach to the heart of philosophical attempts to understand the nature of law, but arise whenever we are confronted by law-like practices and concepts in societies not our own. This book analyses the nature and meaning of law in diverse societies. The book starts from the concept of legalism, taken from the anthropologist Lloyd Fallers, whose 1960s work on Africa engaged, unusually, with jurisprudence. The concept highlights appeal to categories and rules. The degree to which legalism in this sense informs people's lives varies within and between societies, and over time, but it can colour equally both ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ law. Breaking with recent emphases on ‘practice’, the chapters explore, in a set of cases, the place of legalism in the workings of social life. The chapters make obvious the need to question our parochial common sense where ideals of moral order at other times and places differ from those of modern North Atlantic governance. State-centred law, for instance, is far from a ‘central case’. Legalism may be ‘aspirational’, connecting people to wider visions of morality; duty may be as prominent a theme as rights; and rulers from thirteenth-century England to sixteenth-century Burma appropriate, as much they impose, a vision of justice as consistency. The use of explicit categories and rules does not reduce to simple questions of power.

Keywords: law; legalism; jurisprudence; social life; moral order; state-centred law; morality; Africa; simple law; complex law

Book.  368 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Law ; History of Law

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