A Commentary to Brian Z. Tamanaha’s Non-Essentialist Version of Legal Pluralism

The article highlights problems and controversies of one connected with one of the most original conceptualizations of legal pluralism proposed by Brian Z. Tamanaha. Recognizing problems with previous conceptualizations of legal pluralism and the definitions of the law they adopt, Tamanaha suggests considering as law what people identify as law. When there are discrepancies between the distinguishable social identifications of the law, it is actually possible to talk about legal pluralism in a given society. Although the non-essentialist (refraining from any assumptions about the characteristics that the law must manifest to be able to consider it as law) concept of legal pluralism offers new interesting research perspectives, it is also marked by a number of more or less subtle controversies. There are, among others, questions whether it actually allows a clear delimitation of the law from non-law and also tensions between the “democratic character” of the concept and the simultaneous negation of the likely social intuitions on the law, or its excessive descriptivism/lack of legal-political involvement and possible social consequences of its broader adoption. In the article, these and other issues are presented and critically reviewed, allowing for a more accurate assessment of Tamanaha’s conceptualization.

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