17 August 2010


Participants are being sought for a collection on Western legal hybridity.

Western legal histories are often little more than whiggish genealogies of contemporary common laws told at the expense of the legal pluralism of the past. But the creation of general national laws, a legal ‘system’ centred on the state, was a very long historical process; the elimination of competing jurisdictions and the marginalisation of other, non-state normative orders took centuries.

For much of the history of the West, there were multiple contemporaneous legal orders—customary, local, learned, common—co-existing in the same geographical space and at the same time. Indeed, this plurality of laws blurred seamlessly into the less formally institutionalised, but meaningful, normative pluralism from which more formal legal rules often emerged and with which they would continue to compete. Before the nineteenth century, the boundaries between such official and unofficial ‘legalities’ were especially porous.

The volume will examine Western jural complexity from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century. Participants will contribute historical case studies combining both legal and normative hybridity, the ‘living law’ of the past. As a whole, it may shed new light on the expansion of the nation-state and common national laws as well as on attendant developments in legal nationalism, monism, centralism, and positivism.

Given the focus of the volume, we are especially interested in those familiar with comparative law, contemporary theories of interpretation, or historical anthropology, geography, and sociology.

Anyone interested in participating should contact Seán Patrick Donlan ( or Dirk Heirbaut (

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