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This book articulates an empirically grounded theory of law applicable throughout history and across different societies.
Unlike natural law theory or analytical jurisprudence, which are narrow, abstract, ahistorical, and detached from society, Tamanaha's theory presents a holistic vision of law within society, evolving in connection with social, cultural, economic, political, and technological factors. He revives a largely forgotten theoretical perspective on law which runs from Montesquieu to the legal realists.
The book explains why the classic question 'What is law?' has never been resolved, and casts doubt on claims by theorists about necessary and universal truths about law. It ultimately develops a positive theory of law as a social institution with varying forms and functions, tracing law from hunter-gatherer societies to the modern state.
Tamanaha's theory accounts for multi-functional governmental uses of law, legal pluralism, international law, and other legal aspects largely overlooked in jurisprudence.
Announced as: Social Legal Theory: The Modern Transformation of Law