This article examines the ability of modern systems theory to provide a foundation for understanding the problematic notion of legal pluralism, and to the ability of scholars to apply that understanding to engage in the study of pluralistic legal orders. In particular, it develops the observations of systems theory of the relationship between state law and violence by adopting one of its linked ideas, that of structural coupling. It also considers the role played by translation when law is identified by reference to the application of the legal code: legal/illegal. The whole analysis is underpinned by systems theory's account of the differences between studying premodern and modern societies.