The Concept of Imperialism in the Contemporary International Law Discourse
Forthcoming, Jean d'Aspremont and Sahib Singh (eds.), Concepts for International Law (Edward Elgar; 2018)
20 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2017 Last revised: 10 Jan 2018
Date Written: July 21, 2017
The contemporary international law discourse about imperialism is built around four narratives. Each of these narratives presupposes its own, fairly distinct concept of imperialism and thus orientates the course of accompanying theoretical reflections towards a fundamentally different set of issues, events, and legal and historical phenomena. Drawing on the methodologies of critical narratology and critical legal studies, I trace the general contours of these four narratives and explore their underlying theoretical logics and conceptual architectures.
Each of these narratives follows a certain template. Though the role which these templates play seems at first sight to be limited only to helping articulate some general idea about international law’s relationship with imperialism, in the broader discursive economy of the attendant debates they also perform a number of other important functions. Not least crucial among them is the organizing and structuring of the wider theoretical vision that underpins the collective disciplinary consciousness of the international law profession – that layer of largely unarticulated, diffuse commonsensical understandings about the ultimate meaning and purpose of international law, its cultural and ideological raison d’etre as a social project and a mode of governance, its power, and its general place in human history that gives the international law community its sense of a disciplinary unity.
If only because of this, I would like to argue, the concept of imperialism can be recognized today as one of the most significant nodal points in the broader structure of the contemporary international law discourse, a marker of one of the most dynamic discursive spaces for the practical actualization of international law's intra-disciplinary politics and ideological struggles. How we construct the concept of imperialism, how we narrate the relationship between it and the rest of the ideational landscape of international law, in the final analysis, always acts as a statement about where exactly within the discipline’s internal political space we prefer to make our ideological home.
Keywords: imperialism, colonialism, imperialism and international law, critical international law, TWAIL, post-colonial theory, legal structuralism, narratology, structure of the international law discourse
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