'The Life of the Law Has Not Been Logic; It Has Been Experience:' International Legal Ethnography and the New Legal Realism

Heinz Klug, Elizabeth Mertz, Shauhin Talesh and Frances Tung, eds., Handbook on New Legal Realism. Edward Elgar, Forthcoming 2021

26 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2020 Last revised: 21 Jan 2021

See all articles by Jens Meierhenrich

Jens Meierhenrich

Harvard University - Department of Government

Richard Ashby Wilson

University of Connecticut School of Law; Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut

Date Written: August 25, 2020

Abstract

Scholars in law and the social sciences are calling into question the conventional doctrinal account of how international law works. We join this chorus by extolling the virtues of a new method for studying the social life of international law: international legal ethnography. Ethnographic approaches advance the project of the New Legal Realism by explaining legal outcomes through a multidisciplinary study of concrete institutional practices and the subjectivity of legal actors in international justice institutions. A full understanding of why international courts produce influential legal precedent as well as incoherent law and failed prosecutions requires a grasp of both international legal doctrine as well as the organizational culture and quotidian practice of international organizations. International justice institutions are neither insulated from the vagaries of global politics, nor simply reducible to them. Because of their unique and structurally-fragile position betwixt and between national legal cultures, international criminal tribunals have of necessity created a socialization process that inculcates distinctive norms, practices and values among its staff, a process that has identifiable consequences for legal process and outcomes. Our ultimate goal is neither naive faith in the probity of international tribunals, nor a reflexively moral dystopian-ism, but a clear-eyed assessment of both the successes and shortcomings of international justice institutions.

Keywords: international law, international criminal law, new legal realism, ethnography, socio-legal research, international tribunals, international criminal tribunals

Suggested Citation

Meierhenrich, Jens and Wilson, Richard Ashby, 'The Life of the Law Has Not Been Logic; It Has Been Experience:' International Legal Ethnography and the New Legal Realism (August 25, 2020). Heinz Klug, Elizabeth Mertz, Shauhin Talesh and Frances Tung, eds., Handbook on New Legal Realism. Edward Elgar, Forthcoming 2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3680811 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3680811

Jens Meierhenrich

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-7376 (Phone)
617-495-0438 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.gov.harvard.edu/faculty/jmeierhenrich/

Richard Ashby Wilson (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uconn.edu/faculty/profiles/richard-wilson

Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut ( email )

354 Mansfield Road
Storrs, CT 06269-1176
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://anthropology.uconn.edu/person/richard-ashby-wilson/

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