From Interdisciplinarity to Counterdisciplinarity: Is There Madness in Martti's Method?

34 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2013 Last revised: 23 Oct 2013

See all articles by Jeffrey L. Dunoff

Jeffrey L. Dunoff

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: October 22, 2013


Over the years, Martti Koskenniemi has drawn upon other disciplines to illuminate and resolve certain puzzles in legal thought. But close examination of Koskenniemi’s approach to interdisciplinarity itself raises several puzzles. What is the logic that drives Koskenniemi’s embrace of certain disciplines and rejection of others – particularly in light of his claim that it is not possible to sensibly choose among scholarly methods? Why does Koskenniemi view the turn to international relations (IR) as so problematic – particularly given that he sometimes criticizes IR approaches as being too Kantian, and other times criticizes IR theory for not being Kantian enough?

To address these puzzles, this paper explores the links between Koskenniemi’s understanding of the nature and purposes of law, and the methods appropriate to study of the law. It does so by analyzing his use of structuralism and linguistics in early writings, his more recent turn to history, and his memorable claim that the turn to IR can be understood as an effort to colonize law. The paper then turns from Koskenniemi’s understanding of law’s purpose to his understanding of law’s promise. Koskenniemi’s writings on interdisciplinarity suggest that lawyers should engage in a particular form of critique – namely, unmasking "false universals," by identifying the particular that lies behind every claim of the universal. But these writings also suggest an equally important affirmative task for law and lawyers – namely, to understand and justify particular decisions in universal terms. Understanding how lawyers can simultaneously find the particular in the universal and the universal in the particular presents, perhaps, the most difficult puzzle of all. I offer a reading of Koskenniemi’s writings that suggests a resolution to this puzzle.

Keywords: International legal theory, Koskenniemi, international law, international relations, interdisciplinarity

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Suggested Citation

Dunoff, Jeffrey L., From Interdisciplinarity to Counterdisciplinarity: Is There Madness in Martti's Method? (October 22, 2013). Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-31, Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey L. Dunoff (Contact Author)

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

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Philadelphia, PA 19122
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