International Law and Social Movements: Challenges of Theorizing Resistance

20 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2005  

Balakrishnan Rajagopal

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Urban Studies & Planning

Abstract

This article offers an analysis of the key theoretical challenges that arise from the impact of local and transnational social movement action - as witnessed in Seattle in 1999 - on international law and institutions. In spite of a vast scholarly literature in the social sciences on social movements and their relationship to the state and other actors, international lawyers have not engaged this literature so far. Given the increasing importance of non-state and individual action in international affairs, this article suggests that it is now timely to engage with this literature. This article presents the outlines of a larger project to rethink international law through social movements rather than through states or individuals, as realists and liberals do. At the heart of the analysis in this article is the question of how international lawyers can understand the mass resistance around the world to global legal structures. The article argues that international lawyers need a theory of resistance, not simply one of governance, to ensure that the voices of the ordinary people who are increasingly marginalized by the current global order, are properly heard. After outlining some of the key theoretical barriers in international law that prevent a real engagement with social movements, the article explores some possible foundations for a cultural politics of international law that would enable international legal scholarship to pay proper regard to the empirical reality of international relations and to remain committed to the best cosmopolitan ideals of the discipline.

Keywords: International Law, Third World, Development, Social Movements, Globalization

Suggested Citation

Rajagopal, Balakrishnan, International Law and Social Movements: Challenges of Theorizing Resistance. Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 41, p. 397, 2003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=700306

Balakrishnan Rajagopal (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Urban Studies & Planning ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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