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The rule of soft law

An introduction

Filippo M. Zerilli

This introductory article aims to clarify why soft law is an interesting field to explore from a legal anthropological perspective and to point out a number of issues this theme section suggests taking into consideration. The article provides the context for the theme section, inserting soft law within global legal concerns and processes. It outlines the emergence of the notion of soft law, and summarizes the controversies it has raised among legal scholars and law practitioners. Then it explains why, despite the elusive character of the notion and its uncertain normative status, as soon as we move beyond a number of emblematic concerns for law practitioners, soft law mechanisms and practices appear to be a vantage point to explore the emerging transnational legal order, and particularly the relations among state, supra-state, and non-state (private) forms of regulation. Finally, the article introduces the articles in the special section of this issue by highlighting the ways in which they empirically deal with soft law practices and global legal pluralism in a variety of social fields and contexts, using ethnographic sensitivity and imagination.