Looking widely at different laws quickly raises questions about what we can compare. Legal systems have taken very different forms and have been created for very different purposes over the course of human history, so what and why should we try to compare? What, after all, counts as law? Rather than focusing on content and detail, or on the ways in which lawmakers have tried to address similar problems, it is suggested that global comparisons can better address different questions: who makes law, in what circumstances, and why? And who uses it and to what ends? The starting point must be to examine each system on its own terms and to look for common themes among them, as well as significant differences. This can ultimately shed light on the variety of roles that laws play in human societies, as well as the common threads that unite them.

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