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One of the problems facing researchers who have studied courts across time and space has been the cultural variability of seemingly uniform analytic categories, including conceptions of time and space themselves. This article proposes that we take such variations in meaning as a starting point for comparative studies of courts and social change rather than viewing them as were "noise" in the system. Litigation in Chiangmai, Thailand, is presented as an example. Changing conceptions of "space" in Thailand from the nineteenth century to the present illustrate the transformation of legal and political authority as well as the proliferation of normative systems and dispute processing fora. By focusing analysis on variations in the meaning of a concept such as "space," it is possible to discern the significance of litigation in relation to unofficial systems of normative ordering and to gain insight into changing relationships among individuals, local communities, patron-client hierarchies, and the state.

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Law & Society Review

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© 1990 Law and Society Association

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© 1990 Law and Society Association