Beyond History and Boundaries: Rethinking the Past in the Present of International Economic Law

35 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2018 Last revised: 28 Apr 2020

See all articles by Rafael Lima Sakr

Rafael Lima Sakr

University of Sheffield Law School

Date Written: June 12, 2018


History and boundaries are the foundations of international economic law (IEL) as a professional and intellectual field. History is often told to support a wide variety of present projects, norms and ideas by appealing to the past. Boundary is a technique frequently used to map and defend an exclusive domain for applying the IEL expertise to a broad range of programmes, rules and theories. This article first describes how history and boundaries interact to produce a ‘traditional’ view of IEL’s past and present place in the world economy. This interaction plays a central role in structuring how international lawyers assert the authority and legitimacy of IEL in global economic governance. It then argues that the commitments of the traditional approach to Anglocentrism and Modernism limit lawyers’ ability to understand and solve the present-day issues, since it produces lessons only in support of the dominant programmes, norms and ideas under contestation. Consequently, it constrains, instead of empowers, lawyers’ imagination. Building on this critique, the article outlines an alternative approach devised to rethink the IEL field and, more importantly, which past or new projects, norms and theories do or do not count (or should or should not count) as part of it. It concludes with reflections on how we might go about reimagining IEL in response to the contemporary challenges to global economic governance.

Suggested Citation

Lima Sakr, Rafael, Beyond History and Boundaries: Rethinking the Past in the Present of International Economic Law (June 12, 2018). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 9/2018, Available at SSRN: or

Rafael Lima Sakr (Contact Author)

University of Sheffield Law School ( email )

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