Law in action is a familiar phrase in legal circles that have come to accept that law "on the books" does not necessarily mean its translation into life. But lawmaking through community action is less commonly perceived to be plausible in liberal secular nation-states such as the United States. Although the production of law is seen as an artifact of social and political movements (as well as a tool to organize them) and legal interpretation is understood to be affected by political views, law is also presumed to have some autonomy from politics and social movements. Given these assumptions, official organs within a polity - such as courts, legislatures, and the executive - can be readily identified as "the lawmakers," and members of that polity who seek to change law are channeled into certain routes to address those authoritative figures.

That vision of law is incomplete, as was powerfully explained by Robert Cover in Nomos and Narrative. There, Cover gave himself the task of capturing and explaining central yet under-appreciated aspects of what he called "'meaning' in law." Cover aspired to expand the inquiry (and hence our understanding) of legal actors and processes to encompass a "normative universe . . . held together by the force of interpretative commitments-some small and private, others immense and public."