There has recently been an upsurge in anthropologists' interest in law, with North Africa and the Middle East taking a prominent position. One of the foci is the coexistence of multiple sets of legal practices, and the ways in which people negotiate between different legal “systems.” This emphasis closely mirrors the more general shift in anthropology from “discourse” to “practice,” and shares both its strengths and weaknesses. Among the latter is that the resulting emphasis on “legal pluralism” (Griffith 1986) runs the danger of eroding the concept of law as such, subsuming it within more general and all-encompassing notions of “conflict resolution.” Similarly, there is a risk that one of the most striking aspects of legal procedure, namely the value placed on the act of making rules, is being neglected, and the actual content of local law codes and their underlying principles are receiving less attention than they deserve. As a result, “customary law” is more often implicitly defined by what it is not. Here, my aim is not to shift the focus from “practice” to “discourse,” but rather to understand the internal logic of one such set of ‘customs,’ and to consider the act of making law in itself as a special kind of practice (see also Comaroff and Roberts 1981: 15–16).
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