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Legal pluralists have long recognized that societies consist of multiple overlapping normative communities. These communities are sometimes state-based but sometimes not, and they are sometimes formal, official, and governmental, but again sometimes they are not. Scholars studying interactions among these multiple communities have often used the term “legal pluralism” to describe the inevitable intermingling of these normative systems.

In the past decade or so, a new application of pluralist insights has emerged in the international and transnational realm. This new legal pluralism research was born in the decades following the collapse of the bi-polar Cold War order in 1989. During this period, it became clear that a single-minded focus on state-to-state relations or universal overarching norms was inadequate to describe the reality of the emerging global legal system, with its web of jurisdictional assertions by state, international, and non-state normative communities. Legal pluralism provided a useful alternative framework because pluralism had always sought to identify hybrid legal spaces, where multiple normative systems occupied the same social field. And though pluralists had often focused on clashes within one geographical area, where formal bureaucracies encountered indigenous ethnic, tribal, institutional or religious norms, the pluralist framework proved highly adaptive to analysis of the hybrid legal spaces created by a different set of overlapping jurisdictional assertions (state v. state; state v. international body; state v. non-state entity) in the global arena.

This book chapter summarizes and further refines the move from legal pluralism to global legal pluralism by discussing each component of the inquiry further: in what way is global legal pluralism “global”; in what way “legal”; and in what way “pluralist”? This analysis prompts investigation both of challenges to the global legal pluralist project as well as possible responses to those challenges.

GW Paper Series

GW Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Paper No. 2015-20; GW Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-20

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