Interpretive Entrepreneurs

63 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2021 Last revised: 10 Jan 2022

Date Written: February 9, 2021


Private actors interpret legal norms, a phenomenon I call “interpretive entrepreneurship.” The phenomenon is particularly significant in the international context, where many disputes are not subject to judicial resolution, and there is no official system of precedent. Interpretation can affect the meaning of laws over time. For this reason, it can be a form of “post hoc” international lawmaking, worth studying alongside other forms of international lobbying and norm entrepreneurship by private actors. The Article identifies and describes the phenomenon through a series of case studies that show how, why, and by whom it unfolds. The examples focus on entrepreneurial activity by business actors and cast a wide net, examining aircraft finance, space mining, modern slavery, and investment law. As a matter of theory, this process-based account suggests that international legal interpretation involves contests for meaning among diverse groups of actors, giving credence to critical and constructivist views of international legal interpretation. As a practical matter, the case studies show that interpretive entrepreneurship is an influence tool and a driver of legal change.

Keywords: international law, interpretation, treaties, customary international law, corporations, trade associations, non-state actors, sources of law, international legal theory, lobbying

JEL Classification: F23, F50, F53, K33, L21, L31, L32, L38, M14

Suggested Citation

Durkee, Melissa (MJ), Interpretive Entrepreneurs (February 9, 2021). Virginia Law Review, Vol. 107, 2021, University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-03, Available at SSRN:

Melissa (MJ) Durkee (Contact Author)

Washington University School of Law ( email )

One Brookings Drive
MSC 1120-250-258
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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