The concept of ‘living law’ (which refers to informal norms produced by non-state social associations) is one of the most influential and most controversial ideas in modern sociology of law. This chapter will first introduce the concept as it was developed in Eugen Ehrlich’s pioneering work. Next, it will be argued that these ideas have inspired three separate but interconnected fields of contemporary research. One of these fields focuses on ‘legal pluralism’ and looks at informal normative patterns in social associations that coexist with state law. However, these studies also emphasize some of the theoretical and empirical shortcomings of Ehrlich’s original approach. More in particular, the chapter will critically examine the jurisprudential, methodological and conceptual boundaries of ‘living law’. It will be concluded that in the rapidly changing ‘Global Bukowina’ of the twenty-first century, Ehrlich’s plea for a decoupling of law from the state seems more appropriate than ever.
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