Decentering the Universal: Comparative International Law and Decolonizing Critique

26 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2019

Date Written: September 13, 2018


While a growing body of literature has sought to challenge international law’s claim to universality and draw attention to the diversity of non-European systems of international relations and law, the limits of these studies in escaping the conceptual confines of eurocentrism have been evident. As Martti Koskenniemi notes, ‘the question remains how to identify and compare autochthonous forms of thinking about international law that would not necessarily be subsumable under European legal categories but would stand on their own’.

This article examines the potential for the emerging field of comparative international law to open up the international legal space to a different construction of the ‘universal’ and the interplay of particularistic, distinct legal cultures in the making and operation of international law. It argues that an emancipated, open-ended, and interdisciplinary comparative international law might play an important role in decolonizing international legal scholarship.

Keywords: Comparative International Law, Decolonization, Comparative Law, Post-Colonial Critique

Suggested Citation

McKenna, Miriam Bak, Decentering the Universal: Comparative International Law and Decolonizing Critique (September 13, 2018). European Society of International Law (ESIL) 2018 Annual Conference (Manchester), Available at SSRN: or

Miriam Bak McKenna (Contact Author)

Lund University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Lilla Gråbrödersgatan 4
Lund, 222 22

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