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Boston University School of Law




We often speak of law and culture in one breath. That may be so because both systems impose on each person and organization required rules of behavior. Yet, law and culture are quite different, though they relate to and affect each other. Therefore, it is desirable to examine their similarities and differences and their relationship. While the structures of law and culture are more similar than we might expect, their differences greatly affect the enforcement of the rules issued under each.

To be sure, both systems consist of rules and their enforcement. Most of our thoughts and knowledge, and many aspects of our lives and livelihood, in whatever form they take, are subject to rules and their enforcement. Here we speak of rules that are directives of behavior by humans, backed by enforcement of other humans. Yet, law and culture differ in fundamental details, including: (a) the identity of those who initiate the rules; (b) the rules’ underlying purposes and values; (c) how these rules are (i) initiated, (ii) developed, (iii) expressed, (iv) and enforced; and (d) the extent of their acceptance by those to whom they apply.

Many of the details relate to the reaction of the subjects of the rules. Since the subjects of the rules are not identical, they are likely to differ in their reactions and these differences may affect the degree of compliance with the rules. We might assume, however, that most people follow values that relate first and foremost to their own well-being, and secondarily, to the well-being of others. This assumption applies both to those who impose the rules and those who are subjects to the rules. Their relationships may affect the level of benefits that they bestow, and the level of obedience to the rules imposed on others.


Boston University Law Review Online is proud to present an essay by our distinguished emeritus professor Tamar Frankel and her colleague Tomasz Braun. This piece, written in Professor Frankel’s distinctive and thought-provoking voice, is a sequel to her book, Living in Different Cultures, and examines how systems of law and culture relate to and affect each other.

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