Legal Pluralism: Definition And Meaning

The phrase "legal pluralism" has witnessed a surprising increase in interest since the turn of the century, despite being long rejected in legal studies. The role of the state in diverse legal regimes is now reflected in and produced by legal pluralist ideas. This article highlights key phases in the growth of the field of legal pluralism research while concentrating on the function of state law.

The study of law and legal pluralism interacted with a variety of social theory strands, from highly abstract theories like evolutionist theories to general theories of social phenomena like structuralism and functionalism and actor-oriented approaches like structuration, social constructivism, and actor-network theory.

What Is the Meaning of Legal Pluralism

A situation in which two or more legal systems coexist in the same social field is referred to as "legal pluralism." Griffiths distinguishes between a "juristic" view of legal pluralism as a specific issue of dual legal systems created when European countries established colonies that superimposed their legal systems on pre-existing systems and a "social science" view of legal pluralism as an empirical state of affairs in society (the coexistence within a social group of legal orders that do not belong to a single "system").

The "social science" perspective on legal pluralism is the main topic of this literature review. The paper first contrasts traditional and contemporary legal pluralism. Traditional legal pluralism examines where indigenous and European law converges. The new legal pluralism emphasizes that there are multiple normative orders in every society. According to this point of view, research should concentrate on how the formal legal system interacts with other ordering structures that are related to but independent of and dependent upon the formal system.

History of Legal Pluralism

The concept of legal pluralism is relatively new in the social sciences, but it has existed historically. It has contributed to a normative logic of sovereignty by providing the exact "condition of possibility" for ancient empires. In terms of normativity, such a model of statehood also made reference to the diversity of the individuals who made up its constituents. All of the early empires were aware of this and adopted practical solutions. In a post-Westphalian international order, the nation-state and its political counterpart, the imperial and colonial state, both acquired political and legal impetus.

As a result of this development, the dictum "where there is society, there is law" was changed to "where there is a state, there is the law." The presence of legal diversity wasn't considered troublesome until the creation of nation-states and ideologies that canonized the state-people-law nexus in the nineteenth century. This was in keeping with modernity theories and evolutionist views of social structure, growth, and linear progress, which also included imperialism and colonialism.

Although it persisted unabated in reality in colonial governments, where rising nation-states strove to eradicate any traces of legal pluralism in domestic legal philosophy, the realities of legal pluralism needed to be accepted, not least as an administrative necessity.

Legal Pluralism in India

The official faith-based pluralist system in India was developed in an effort to formalize long-standing religious customary practices. This pluralistic system includes "Mohammedan" or Shari'a law, which has its official legal beginnings in the Shariat Act of 1937, which codified a portion of the fiqh (law with an Islamic foundation and is interpreted in Islamic sources), even though it had been in use for a very long time prior to that.

Hindu law is a component of the larger Indian legal system and is especially used to resolve family issues. The inclusion of Sikhs and Buddhists makes it more inclusive than Mohammedan law, nonetheless. The Indian Divorce (Amendment) Act 2001's provisions for Christians on divorce, separation, maintenance, and adoption were changed to more closely resemble those in Britain, as Christian law has come to be recognized as a plural jurisdiction since the 2000s, resulting in a highly interconnected system of laws.

The fact that some places will adhere to various interpretations of religious law and incorporate it into a framework from the colonial era, such as that seen in Goa, only serves to further exacerbate the intricacy of this legal matrix. As a result, the legal options open to a person can change depending on where they live, their personal faith, and the locality's majority religion.

Why is Legal Pluralism Important?

Several legal systems existing within a (human) population and/or a particular geographic location are referred to as "legal pluralism." In former colonies, where the law of a former colonial government may coexist with more conventional legal systems, plural legal systems are especially prevalent (customary law). There are many areas of normative entrepreneurship, invention, and interpretation; therefore, regulation is not an official monopoly.

State law governs over a complex web of adversaries and allies, not an unmanaged terrain. The impact it has on the various local species surrounding it depends on how it interacts with them; the central official institutions themselves provide the setting for enduring and extensive local variants.

Under the categories of private administration, indigenous law, semi-autonomous social spheres, and local legal culture, these many breaks from unity and uniformity were investigated. We place a high value on plurality since the centralist ideal of an all-encompassing integrated legal system is actually a component of modern law's ideology rather than a description of it. In the modern world, organizations frequently operate under multiple legal frameworks. Legal coexistence in a single social area is referred to as "legal pluralism."

Legal pluralism, which was first defined in colonial contexts when the colonial power elevated a European legal system above an already-existing indigenous system, is now recognized as an essential component of all legal systems. There are many legal systems in advanced capitalist states as well as colonial and postcolonial ones.


We have shown that anthropological analyses of plural legal orders have alternated between moving toward state law and away from it. This occurred in engagement with successive social and legal theories and as a result of perceived socio-economic and political changes. The evolution theory constructed a unilinear development from "primitive" to modern state law. Structural functionalist theories were so preoccupied with finding the internal workings of the laws they found in the colonies that the state receded to the background.

These studies were predicated on the idea that order was established by law. The American school of legal realism, Anglo-American legal doctrine, and a turn in anthropology towards the study of conflict in the middle of the twentieth century limited the study of law to disputes. The social functioning of law in the interaction of various legal systems was at the center of research in European legal anthropology.

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. What is critical legal pluralism?

Ans. The conventional monist view of law as a product of the political state and its offspring has been challenged by sociolegal scholars with the idea of legal pluralism.

Q2. What is legal pluralism in personal law?

Ans. Several legal systems existing within a single culture or region are known as "legal pluralism." In former colonies, where the law of a former colonial government may coexist with more conventional legal systems, plural legal systems are especially common (customary law).

Q3. What is the nature of pluralism?

Ans. As was already stated, respecting and incorporating diversity within a shared culture calls for a particular psychological orientation. This approach needs to be demonstrated on an individual, societal, and systemic level within the culture. The nature of pluralism is the nature of that perspective.

Q4. Is pluralism a democracy?

Ans. A political structure with multiple power centers is known as a pluralist democracy. Democracies nowadays are by nature pluralistic because they permit freedom of association. Therefore, democracy may not be necessary for plurality.

Updated on: 06-Apr-2023


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