A tale of two courts: How organizational ethnography can shed new light on legal pluralism

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This article argues that organizational ethnography, and an organizational perspective more generally, can help to shed new light on the phenomenon of legal pluralism. While the literature on legal pluralism has tended to focus on the interrelations between normative orders in situations of legal pluralism, this article directs attention to the organizational level, to the day-to-day routines in courts that operate under conditions of legal pluralism, and to the interorganizational relations between such courts. To demonstrate the utility of that approach to legal pluralism, the article presents an ethnographic case study from present-day Jerusalem. Focusing on two sharī'a courts, one Israeli and one Jordanian, that operate in the city and serve the same population, the article describes how legal pluralism unfolds in daily organizational life. It portrays the complex fabric of the interrelations between these courts and tracks the evolution of these interrelations that transformed over the years from mutual antagonism to mutual dependence. These processes are examined within the turbulent political context in Jerusalem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-137
Number of pages20
JournalPoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Jerusalem
  • Legal pluralism
  • Organizational ethnography
  • sharī'a courts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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