(2006) JLP 53-54: 1-44


The dynamics of change and continuity in plural legal orderS


Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmannn




This paper introduces this Special Number. The work of the Project Group Legal Pluralism at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle aims to continue the rapid expansion of recent decades of studies of legal pluralism. The recently much discussed phenomenon of globalisation has provoked a wide variety of local responses. Encounters are occurring between state laws, transnational laws, customary laws and religious laws, all of which are liable as a result to be transformed by processes of adaptation, appropriation and vulgarisation. This may lead to increasing pluralisation of laws, but can also in some cases produce homogenisation, or de-pluralisation.


The notion of ‘law’ should not be limited to state, international and transnational law, but should be used to refer to all those objectified cognitive and normative conceptions for which validity for a certain social formation is authoritatively asserted. Law becomes manifest in many forms, and is comprised of a variety of social phenomena. Constellations of legal pluralism may include legal systems, unnamed laws and religious laws. Within such a constellation elements of one legal order may change in various ways under the influence of another. Co-existing bodies of law may cover different geographical and political spaces, and longer temporal periods than are formally acknowledged. Inter-system demarcations also vary in complex ways in their form and in the uses to which social actors put them. Legal orders (and not only state laws) recognise or do not recognise other orders in varying ways, these constructions having potentially some influence on social actors, the nature and extent of which are empirical questions in each case.


The emergence, maintenance and change of constellations of legal pluralism are thus the result of dynamic processes. Such processes are examined in this volume, and the following papers contain illustrations of all these issues.