The question why certain kinds of legal institutions are found in certain kinds of societies has been little explored by anthropologists. In this book Katherine Newman examines a sample of some sixty different preindustrial societies, distributed across the world, in an attempt to explain why their legal systems vary. The key to understanding this variation, Professor Newman argues, is to be found in economic organization. Adopting a Marxian, or materialist, approach, she draws on original ethnographic sources for each culture in order to investigate how legal processes and institutions regulate basic aspects of economic life in societies with differing types of economic organization. She also examines the commonalities of law within various preindustrial 'modes of production' and shows that the patterning of legal institutions arises from underlying tensions in production systems. In offering an explanation of the distribution of legal institutions across preindustrial societies, as well as for the sources of conflict in such societies, the book makes an important contribution to the comparative study of legal systems. It will interest anthropologists and other readers concerned with the operation and development of legal institutions.