Beyond Relativism: Where Is Political Power in Legal Pluralism?

Gad Barzilai


Both decentralization of state law and cultural relativism have been fundamentally embedded in legal pluralism. As a scholarly trend in law and society, it has insightfully challenged the underpinnings of analytical positivist jurisprudence. Nevertheless, a theoretical concept of political power has significantly been missing in research on the plurality of legal practices in various jurisdictions. This Article aims to critically offer a theoretical concept of political power that takes legal decentralization and cultural relativism seriously and yet points to how and where we should look into political power, assuming that legal pluralism itself may be a strategy of elites and nation-states amid globalization. First, the Article explores the contributions of legal pluralism, and its limits, in intellectually revolting against analytical positivist jurisprudence. Second, it explicates why a concept of political power has been missing, and why such a concept is required for better comprehension of legal pluralism. Third, it calls for a look into three sites of political power in the praxis of legal pluralism: politics of identities, non-ruling communities, and neo-liberal globalization. Last, the Article constructs a concept of political-legal transformations that enables us to unveil political power in the context of de-centralized legal pluralities. Power is produced in, resides in and is generated in the dynamic interactions between nation-states, localities and global agents. Transformative relations along these dimensions allow the nation-state to forfeit some elements of power, both in economics and in law, but they also enable it to maintain some essential ingredients of political power that are often veiled in the rhetoric of globalized pluralism.

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