Researching the Role of Soft Law in International Economic Relations: Some Lessons from Applying a Socio-Legal Approach

20 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2010 Last revised: 12 Jul 2010

See all articles by Mary E. Footer

Mary E. Footer

University of Nottingham School of Law

Date Written: July 9, 2010


A question that scholars of international economic law rarely ask is whether their research is of relevance to others – not simply to those in the IEL community but to society at large. IEL scholarship all too often consists of lengthy doctrinal accounts, involving close textual analysis of relevant rules and case law, sometimes interspersed with theoretical insights. Likewise, there is a relative dearth of inter-disciplinary research and few attempts are made to place IEL scholarship in a broader social science context.

The paper attempts to address such omissions by providing a first-hand account of the experience of conducting socio-legal research in the field of international economic and business law. It does so by setting the study of soft law in a broader social science context in which issues of data collection, including the systematic use of qualitative analysis, and the interpretation and validation of such data, are explored.

In telling this story, the author’s current research into the role of soft law in international economic relations is used as a case study to explore such issues as: setting a research agenda; developing a process of enquiry; applying relevant theories; selecting suitable case studies; writing up the ethnographical material; and building a theoretical framework. The paper also looks at the matter of piloting a piece of empirical research, developing a research network and publishing the output(s) from such a research project.

Presented at the SIEL 2010 Conference in Barcelona.

Keywords: International Economic Law, Socio-Legal Research, Soft Law, Social Science

JEL Classification: F02, F10, F20, F30, F40, K33

Suggested Citation

Footer, Mary E., Researching the Role of Soft Law in International Economic Relations: Some Lessons from Applying a Socio-Legal Approach (July 9, 2010). Society of International Economic Law (SIEL), Second Biennial Global Conference, University of Barcelona, July 8-10, 2010, Available at SSRN: or

Mary E. Footer (Contact Author)

University of Nottingham School of Law ( email )

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