Comparative Law and Society
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Comparative Law and Society

Edited by David S. Clark

Comparative Law and Society, part of the Research Handbooks in Comparative Law series, is a pioneering volume that comprises 19 original essays written by expert authors from across the world. This innovative handbook offers both a history of the field of comparative law and society and a thorough exploration of its methods, disciplines, and major issues, presenting the most comprehensive look into this contemporary field to date.
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Chapter 15: Legal Cultures

David Nelken


David Nelken* 1 1 INTRODUCTION In comparative research on law and society, scholars regularly use the term ‘legal culture’ as a way of drawing attention to developments they seek to explain or problems that they want to change. As a recent World Bank study reported: Legal culture is often considered as a given feature of the local environment to which proposed legal reform projects must adapt; many argue that legal and judicial reform programs must be tailored to fit local legal culture or they will fail. Other times, the prevailing legal culture itself may be the object of reform, rather than merely a constraint. Thus, understanding the arguments related to the concept of legal culture will become increasingly important for aspiring legal reformers . . .. Does the legal system not work well because people distrust the courts, or do people distrust the courts because the legal system doesn’t work well? Is the introduction of a new contract law unlikely to have an effect because the business culture prefers informal deals with family and friends, or does the preference for informal dealing exist only because no one has yet passed an efficient contract law? These sorts of problems are not easy to resolve, especially because the causality clearly runs in both directions, and the interactions between beliefs and actions are extraordinarily complex. (2005) On the other hand, the concept is also highly contested. Academic debates about legal culture can be confusing because authors may disagree not only over what is true of a...

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