The many uses of law: Connecting an Instrumental and an Interactional Perspective

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Legal instrumentalism has a bad name: it is criticized for reducing law to a policy instrument for external political or economic goals. In this paper I aim to rehabilitate instrumentalism, at least to some extent, by reinterpreting it from the perspective of pragmatist interactionism. By seeing law as emerging from the interactional expectancies of people towards one another, law is conceptually based on horizontal relationships (building on the theory of Lon Fuller). In the paper I will argue that this horizontal orientation can provide a specific version of an instrumental view of law because it pluralizes law’s instrumentality. Law is no longer seen as a policy instrument in the hands of authorities, but as a tool for everyone who makes use of it (making use of John Dewey’s pragmatism). Such a bottom-up account of law as an instrument requires arguing how the purposive activities of people in legal practices shape law as an interactional phenomenon. It also requires an argument on how the horizontal and vertical dimensions of law are connected. This means exploring to what extent law as set by official authority figures in, limits or enables, the different uses ordinary people make of law.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2015
EventConference 'In pursuit of pluralist jurisprudence' - National University of Singapore
Duration: 5 Feb 2015 → …


ConferenceConference 'In pursuit of pluralist jurisprudence'
CityNational University of Singapore
Period5/02/15 → …


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