International Relations Theory and Critical Legal Studies

Abstract: In International Relations (IR) theory, norms are widely held to be the opposite to ‘interest defined as power’ (Morgenthau). Norms are often held to be scripts of emancipation, and power to be a practice of domination. The project argues that IR norms research all too often buys into a problematic dichotomy by adopting a binary perspective from which power is either held to be superior to norms or erased from the notion of the norm. The problem with this dichotomy is that norms are misconceived when limited to the two options of either being emancipatory values against the dictates of power politics or utopist scripts never standing these dictates in the long run. The project aims to explore a deeper understanding of how norms are political and how elements like power, coercion, and violence circulate within norms and norms-related practice. To this end, it offers IR to draw on certain strands of work in legal theory, namely the legacies of American legal realism and critical legal studies, to elaborate on how norms and norms-related practice are political. More…


Towards a New International Relations Theory (NIRT)

(together with Prof. Antje Wiener, funded by the Landesforschungsförderung Hamburg for the period February 2017 to June 2018.)

Executive Summary: In times of international crisis social scientists should be able to position themselves vis-à-vis a world that has arguably come out of joint. Yet, particularly those engaging in theory all too often remain silent. A major goal of this project is to counter this silence and encourage more critical engagement with the world. Towards that end, the group addresses the interplay between practice-approaches and normative theory in International Relations Theory. Without a deep understanding of everyday practice and its role in the reproduction of order, quick entries to normative theory are hardly available. Assuming the pitfalls of global order to be visible ‘on the ground,’ the project focuses on crisis as a contradictory process during which the meaning of order becomes subject to contestation. The underlying rationale of the project is thus to scrutinize the configuration of normativity in and through everyday practice. More at the UHH homepage


Critique of Transnational Violence

Addressed disciplines: Political Science (International Relations, International Political Theory); Law (Law & Society Studies, Critical Legal Studies); Sociology (World Society Studies); Critical Geography

Keywords: Violence, global governance, transnational constellation, Walter Benjamin, law, statehood, globalization

Abstract: Our present is characterized by a transnational picture. In this picture, to take up an idea by Walter Benjamin, “that what has been and what is now coalesce in a constellation” (Benjamin). In a globalizing world, major categories of governance take a new shape. The relation of law and violence, as it has been inscribed in the modern state, is being rearranged. Statehood reappears in a new form, no longer embedded in the territorial demarcations of the nation-state. It appears in a transnational constellation. The project suggests taking its starting point in Benjamin’s essay on the “Critique of Violence” and attempts to extend this critique to a globalizing world in crisis. Put differently, the idea is to approach a “critique of transnational violence,” understood as “reaction to a constellation of danger (Gefahrenkonstellation)” (Benjamin).

Research question: For Benjamin, violence (Gewalt) is embedded in a relation of means and ends, the latter being the making or preservation of order, the making or preserving of law. He assumes that “law sees violence in the hands of individuals as a danger undermining the legal system” (Benjamin). What follows for Benjamin is an inherent monopoly of violence and even “the law’s interest in a monopoly of violence vis-a-vis individuals” (Benjamin). While critically understanding law as a phenomenon of order, Benjamin distinguishes between two modes of law-related violence: “lawmaking” and “law-preserving” violence (Benjamin). However, the problem is that this “separation of lawmaking and law-preserving violence is suspended” (Benjamin). Where the state of exception becomes a dominant paradigm of governance, where the police tends to govern by way of decrees, the normative difference collapses since preserving the order by “policing” it all too often comes with the very making of new law. However, facing transnational forms of regulation, this insight in the “law’s interest in the monopoly the violence” Benjamin 1986: 281) can no longer be taken for granted. The Critique’s national frame of reference must be made subject to scrutiny. Violence is to be rethought on a different – i.e. transnational – scale. The question is thus: How can we rethink the monopoly of violence against the background of a fragmented transnational legal order? It is here that a Benjamin-inspired theory of transnational violence may start from. How can we consider the state, law, and violence in the transnational constellation? What violence may by inherent to this constellation itself?


Geographies of Global Governance / Transnational Human Rights Litigation and the Politics of Space 

Abstract: The project Transnational Human Rights Litigation and the Politics of Space focusses on human rights violations not by states but by private corporations, particularly when operating in places where ‘the law’ is hardly available for victims. The latter may want to resist by means of transnational human rights litigation (THRL) and ‘find the law’ abroad. The project holds that spatial knowledge is a necessary precondition for the making of a legal case. In the field of THRL space is highly contested. While the Supreme Court decision on Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum is arguably a moment of juridico-political gravity, with critical repercussions for the future possibilities of suing transnational corporation before US courts, the core interest of this project is not primarily ‘juridical.’ Instead, the focus is on the ‘politics of space’ at work in the THRL. The project is interested in how space is constructed and thus becomes a technicality of a politics of transnational law.

Related Publications:


Global Community of Courts [completed]

(together with Prof. Antje Wiener, funded by the TransCoop-Programme of the Alexander von Humboldt foundation in cooperation with the Canadian Research Council (SSHRC).

Abstract: Anne-Marie Slaughter has described the “new world order” as characterized by some “conceptual shifts,” including an increasing cooperation of domestic courts across nation-state boundaries. The cross-jurisdictional referencing of legal norms and decisions, as Slaughter holds, would lead into a “global community of courts.” This article takes issue with that observation. We argue that for such a community to emerge, cross-referencing would need to be followed by an effective transmission of meaning from one (legal) context to another. Following recent insights in the field of International Relations norm research, however, we can expect such meanings to be contested — in particular, when different cultural repertoires operate on either side of the interactive processes. Therefore, a need for translation ensues (i.e., a translation of constitutional norms or concepts from one legal order into another). The conditions of a “global community of courts” are thus not easily met. In this respect, the aim of the article is to put Slaughter’s thesis to an empirical test. To extrapolate the “normative structures of meaning-in-use” the article builds on the analysis of semi-structured interviews with legal practitioners who were involved in the jurisprudence on anti-terrorism measures in two countries, Canada and Germany. During this empirical work, we found a “global community of courts” not yet emerged. Although the concept of community does matter as an explanatory reference for research on legal cross-referencing across national borders, our research suggests that practice of cross-referencing is still more “culturally” fragmented than unified, and normative references are more regionally diverse than globally shared. Moreover, the normative context within which referencing takes place remains strong, so that the meaning of “foreign” concepts is often constructed by means of contestation rather than transferred from one contest into another. For more information, click here

Related Publications:

  • Antje Wiener and Philip Liste, Lost Without Translation? Cross-Referencing and a New Global Community of Courts, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 21: 1 (Winter 2014), 263-296.


Intertextualities as Technique of Global Governance: The Constitution of Normativity in Organizational Context [completed]

Abstract: The ever-always-the-same phrases in documents of International Organizations (IOs) are not “just” phrases. This project builds on the assumption that repetitive phraseology is a major aspect in institutional practice and a forceful technique in the global organization of normativity—understood as a continuously negotiated accumulation of normative claims or patterns of meaning. Located on the intersection of the academic fields of International Relations, Organizational Sociology and Law, the project aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the daily operations of IOs and their role in the regulation of world society as well as phenomena of constitutionalization and fragmentation of international law. The project proposes to analyze this daily practice as textual practice. By the same token, social science discourse analysis will be applied in order to elaborate the hegemonic reproduction of normativity in a global scale in which IOs are assumed to play an essential role. Guided by a theoretical interest in questions of the constitutionalization and fragmentation of international law the project aims to show paths for conducting empirical research on the nexus of IOs and the contested constitution of normative order—i.e. global normativity.

Related publications

  • Katja Freistein and Philip Liste, Organisation-im-Kommen: Intertextualer Institutionalismus in der Analyse von Weltorganisationen. In Martin Koch (ed.): Weltorganisationen (Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2012).
  • Philip Liste, The Politics of (Legal) Intertextuality. International Political Sociology 3:4 (2010), 319-22.