Interpretive Communities in International Law
in A. Bianchi, D. Peat and M. Windsor (eds) Interpretation in International Law (Oxford University Press) INTRODUCTION
40 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2014 Last revised: 1 Oct 2021
Date Written: October 1, 2014
This chapter explores how the wide range of interpreters that populate international law, forming part of interpretive communities, affects interpretation in international law. To understand how interpretation in international law works in practice, we need to appreciate the role of interpretive communities in the interpretive process — an influence that is routinely overlooked. To look only at interpretive directions, such as the principles of interpretation found in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), is insufficient. Any account of interpretation is incomplete without the sociological dimension of interpretive communities. The meaning of international law norms hinges on background principles shared by interpreters who form part of one or several interpretive communities. The focus is not on individual interpreters, but rather on the relationship among interpreters. Individual and group identity, the background and the shared understandings of interpreters are key ingredients in the interpretive process.
This chapter first discusses the character of interpretive communities (Part I), before showing how practices and shared understandings within those interpretive communities shape interpretation (Part II). Part III contends that interpretive debates in international law are a contest between various actors over which normative vision of international law to advance in various issue areas.
Keywords: Interpretation, treaties, interpretive communities, epistemic communities, specialization, fragmentation, regimes, interpretive methods
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation