Anthropology, the study of human culture through fieldwork, has long had a special relationship with American Legal Realism. In almost any way we conceive of realism, the discipline of anthropology contributes valuable insight because, most generally, it maintains a close correspondence between abstract thought and observable practice. In this brief essay, I describe the key ideas of American, Anglo and European sociocultural anthropology with a particular focus upon studies of law and legality. I then turn to the main practice of anthropology, ethnography, in order to explore how disciplinary ideas have been developed and reconsidered operationally through systematic “encounters” with legal actors. I conclude the chapter by revisiting the debates in American Legal Realism, both classic and new, to argue that Anthropology remains an indispensible framework and method for understanding “law in action” today.
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