|Legal pluralism has become a major theme in socio-legal studies. However, under this very broad denomination, one can identify many different trends which share little but the very basic idea that law is much more than state law. Despite their eclectic character, these many conceptions of legal pluralism also share some common fundamental premises concerning the nature of law, its function, and its relationship with its cultural milieu. This contribution aims at critically addressing these premises and at suggesting some re-specification of the question of law, its plural sources, and the many practices that enfold in relationship with it. In its spirit, this re-specification can be characterised as realistic and praxiological.
Indeed, I shall argue that it is at best useless and at worst wrong to start from a label like “legal pluralism” so as to describe something which is presumed to be an instance of such label. My contention here is that law is what people consider as law, nothing more nothing less, and that occurrences of legal plurality are limited to these situations where people explicitly orient themselves to the fragmented spectrum of law. Instead of looking at the hypothetical pluralistic model of law which something like, e.g., Egyptian law, would be an instance of, the task of social scientists is, rather, to describe the situations, the mechanisms and the processes through which people orient to something legal which they identify as pluralistic. This position is grounded on a principle of indifference, by which one seeks to avoid normative and evaluative engagements: the focus is put on the description of practices, not on their evaluation. Moreover, this position is based on the refusal of any ironic standpoint, i.e. the denial that social scientists occupy any kind of overhanging position vis-a-vis the social, by which they would be entitled to “reveal” to “self-deceived people” the truth which is concealed from them because of their “lack of critical distance”, “ignorance” and/or “bad faith”.
In a first section, I shall briefly describe the main trends in the field of legal pluralism, from its historical scientific background to its more recent theories. In a second section, I formulate some of the major criticisms which can be addressed to the postulates sustaining these many versions of legal pluralism. These critical stances vis-a-vis the legal pluralistic study of law articulate around three main questions, i.e. the definitional problem, the functionalist premises, and the culturalist conception which undermine existing theories. I shall argue, in the third section, that realism is a possible remedy to these flaws. However, these are best addressed through what I call a praxiological re-specification of the whole issue of legal pluralism, which I shall illustrate through the study of Egyptian cases. In conclusion, I shall formulate some remarks on praxiology as a way to fill the “missing-what” of classical socio-legal studies.