Comparativism and Colonizing Thinking in International Law

57 Canadian Yearbook of International Law (2020)

24 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2020 Last revised: 9 Jun 2020

See all articles by Jean d'Aspremont

Jean d'Aspremont

Sciences Po Law School; University of Manchester - School of Law

Date Written: October 20, 2019


Comparison is a very common tool for international lawyers. In fact, international law is built around, and draws upon constructions necessitating an exercise of comparison. In recent years, however, calls have been made to turn the familiar tool of comparison into a central way to engage with international law. This is the idea of those spearheading the rise of a new field called Comparative International Law (‘the comparativist project’). The comparativist project has attracted enormous attention and enthusiasm in the international legal literature. This article critically examines the promotion of comparison as a central mode of engagement with international law and scrutinizes some of the main features of the comparativist project. It particularly shows that the comparativist project, far from laying bare the plurality of international legal thought and practice, enables a dangerous thought-colonizing enterprise. The article ends with some observations on the need to promote counter-comparability thinking as a guarantee against colonizing thinking in international legal studies.

Keywords: International law; comparative law; comparative international law; comparativism; colonizing thinking, legal pluralism; commensurability, modernism

Suggested Citation

d'Aspremont, Jean, Comparativism and Colonizing Thinking in International Law (October 20, 2019). 57 Canadian Yearbook of International Law (2020), Available at SSRN: or

Jean D'Aspremont (Contact Author)

Sciences Po Law School ( email )

13 rue de l'université
Paris, 75007


University of Manchester - School of Law ( email )

Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL, M139PL
United Kingdom


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