TWAIL Pedagogy - Legal Education for Emancipation

Palestine Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 15, No. 7, 2010

34 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2009 Last revised: 13 Dec 2012

See all articles by Mohsen al Attar

Mohsen al Attar

University of Warwick

Vernon Ivan Tava

New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland

Date Written: July 23, 2009


Earlier this year, Galal Nassar asserted that universities, once the “guardians of debate and intellectual freedom”, were quickly becoming places “where young people learn how to keep their mouths shut.” In this he is correct and though it might at first appear counter-intuitive, Western law schools have been leading the reformative charge. As Duncan Kennedy demonstrated nearly thirty years ago, law lecturers, for both self-serving and self-legitimating purposes, employ methods and foster teacher-student relationships that encourage fealty to ensconced equations of power. Legal education, Kennedy bemoaned, bequeaths not merely a qualification but also an ideology and a worldview, both of which buttress the preeminent standing of established hierarchies. This is particularly worrisome from a Third World perspective for some of the more insidious hierarchies that students subtly learn to accept exist between the First and Third worlds. Though explicit efforts to inculcate students with the racial rankings of the colonial era are uncommon, the facileness with which legal academics disregard this historical record relegates it to the bin of past injustice implicitly making it irrelevant to modern legal education. Not unlike with the teaching of municipal law where class stratification is presented as inevitable, First-Third world divisions acquire a similar innocuousness, a perception that does not lend itself to the questioning of the agent-subject relationship that persists between the two blocs in international lawmaking.

In this article then, we explicate, from conceptualization to practice, the theory behind and the use of an alternate pedagogy - derived from the work of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) scholars, of Paolo Freire, and of Ngugi wa Thiong’o - in the delivery of a course on international law in a mainstream Western law school. We argue that this approach has enabled students to familiarize themselves with critical legal theories, to experience a dialogic and democratic approach to teaching and learning, and to reflect on the place of justice in international law, a series of achievements unlikely within the conventional banking model. The authors do not claim to offer a definitive account on the teaching of international law. Emancipatory initiatives are neither exclusive nor exclusionary and we would not advocate the adoption of a single teaching method. Instead, what we put forward is both a theoretical and a practical examination of the application of a TWAIL-inspired approach to legal pedagogy. This pedagogy, we argue, is very effective in acquiring a nuanced understanding of international legal matters, developing a wide range of practical skills, and nurturing awareness of the harmful outcomes international law produces for the Third World. It is hoped, and only time will tell, that the understanding, skills, and awareness the students acquire will manifest outwardly into a deeper social consciousness and a meaningful desire to struggle for a just international legal order.

Keywords: TWAIL, Third World, Legal Pedagogy, Critical Pedagogy, Emancipation, International Law, Resistance, Paolo Freire, Ngugi wa Thiong'o

JEL Classification: F01, I2, K33

Suggested Citation

al Attar, Mohsen and Tava, Vernon Ivan, TWAIL Pedagogy - Legal Education for Emancipation (July 23, 2009). Palestine Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 15, No. 7, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Mohsen Al Attar (Contact Author)

University of Warwick ( email )

Gibbet Hill Road
Coventry CV4 7AL, CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://

Vernon Ivan Tava

New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland ( email )

Private Bag 92019
Auckland Mail Centre
Auckland, 1142
New Zealand

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