TWAIL as Naturalized Epistemological Inquiry

33 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2007

See all articles by Andrew F. Sunter

Andrew F. Sunter

Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP


Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) scholarship provides a trenchant critique of the contemporary international law regime, using concrete historical and cultural evidence to demonstrate that the central doctrines of international law are highly Eurocentric and, therefore, not representative of the values and beliefs of a large portion of the world's population. Nevertheless, there is almost no recognition of TWAIL's intellectual contribution in mainstream international law scholarship. It is only in rare cases that mainstream scholars make the effort to directly respond to Twailian critiques. And in these rare cases, TWAIL is positioned as just another radically critical post-modern approach to international law. The marginalization of TWAIL scholarship is frustratingly counterproductive, as recent developments in the international order offer unparalleled challenges for populations in the South. Further, Southern perspectives are conspicuously absent from the mainstream international law discourse. TWAIL seeks to represent marginalized world-views and incorporate them into this discourse. My project is to reinterpret the insights of TWAIL so as to make them more palatable to mainstream scholars with modernist theoretical commitments. I will argue that many TWAIL scholars should be understood to subscribe to the same methodological commitments as naturalized epistemologists because they are interested in the causes of belief-claims, prioritizing an etiological examination of international law doctrine and scholarship over substantive analytical critique. More specifically, TWAIL promotes a suspicious stance towards belief-claims that have problematic, hidden, and/or misrepresented foundations. I will conclude that TWAIL's critique of international law is most reminiscent of a hermeneutics of suspicion, which is the interpretive approach famously embraced by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Such an approach, while undeniably critical, falls squarely within the modernist philosophical tradition. According to TWAIL, practitioners and scholars of international law should engage in self-reflection and critically examine the epistemological foundations of their beliefs and doctrinal claims. If such practitioners and scholars agree that international law should be based on intellectual and moral commitments that reflect its global subject matter and not just its European history, then there is significant space for the insights of TWAIL in mainstream scholarship.

Keywords: Third world, TWAIL, international law, epistemology, hermeneutics of suspicion, human rights, humanitarian, Africa

Suggested Citation

Sunter, Andrew F., TWAIL as Naturalized Epistemological Inquiry. Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 20, No. 2, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Andrew F. Sunter (Contact Author)

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