Reversing Field: What Can International Relations Learn from International Law?

90 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2012 Last revised: 26 Aug 2015

Jeffrey L. Dunoff

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Mark A. Pollack

Temple University - Department of Political Science; Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: April 9, 2012

Abstract

International Relations has rediscovered the study of international law in recent years. And yet, this new “IL/IR” scholarship has been highly unbalanced, with political science scholars paying little or no attention to the potential contribution of international legal scholarship, which is seen as excessively formalist and blind to the realities of modern power politics. Ironically, by ignoring what lawyers know about how international law operates, IR scholars themselves unwittingly fall prey to a type of formalism that is insufficiently attentive to the practical realities of how the international legal order works. Happily, IR scholars can remedy these defects by drawing upon the theoretical frameworks and empirical analyses of their counterparts in law. To encourage such an engagement, this paper proceeds in three parts. Part I provides a thumbnail history of the relationship between the disciplines, including their post-war estrangement, the recent rapprochement, and the unbalanced terms of trade between the two disciplines today. Part II sets out a brief primer on the leading theoretical approaches to international law, demonstrating that the common image of international legal scholarship as overly formalistic and blind to political realities is simply incorrect, and that IL scholarship offers important insights into issues that political scientists care about. Part III turns more directly to how international legal thought can advance IR thinking. We identify several concepts – which we call process, power, pluralism, and normativity – that are central to legal analysis but often overlooked or treated differently in IR scholarship. Next, by way of example, we highlight three broad areas of inquiry – the making, interpretation, and enforcement of international law – where international law approaches can make a distinctive contribution to IR scholarship.

Keywords: International law, international relations, interdisciplinary, international legal theory

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Dunoff, Jeffrey L. and Pollack, Mark A., Reversing Field: What Can International Relations Learn from International Law? (April 9, 2012). Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-14. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2037299 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2037299

Jeffrey L. Dunoff (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-8233 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

Mark A. Pollack

Temple University - Department of Political Science ( email )

461 Gladfelter Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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