The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law and the Rise of Academic Reference Works

by Peter Spiro

Just out from Oxford University Press: The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law, edited by my former University of Georgia colleague Dan Bodansky along with Jutta Brunnee and Ellen Hey. It’s an impressive collection of 47 entries, with contributions from the likes of Christopher Stone, Peter Sand, Richard Stewart, Scott Barrett, Benedict Kingsbury, and Steve Ratner. I have a chapter on NGOs; my Temple Law colleague Jeff Dunoff has one on levels of environmental governance. I know this took a lot of energy on the part of the editors, and it has paid off with a rich, interdisciplinary volume.

Has anyone else noticed the trend towards publications of this description? Other examples from Oxford include this, this, and this. Edward Elgar has started up a “research handbook” series; if the latest volume, on international economic law edited by Andrew Guzman and Alan Sykes, is representative, this is going to be a useful undertaking as well. So top scholars are signing up for these projects.

Of course, these volumes are almost certainly profitable for the presses involved – they have high sticker prices (the IEL handbook lists at $160), but academic libraries are likely to consider these must-haves for their collections. But that doesn’t explain why people are signing up to write for them (my experience is that as with almost all other academic writing, not even a token honorarium is involved). Perhaps it’s a sort of retreat to quality, in the face of the explosion of scholarly legal writing. Even if you’re a top name of the likes of Stewart and Stone, it may now make sense to have your thinking represented in a format that shortcuts Lexis searches and other time-consuming research exercises. Everyone’s busy and there is so much out there to sift through. It’s also a nice vehicle not just to digest developments but to suggest trendlines and other possibilities, with less of a commitment than is required by a full-blown law review article.

One Response

  1. I admit to spending too much money on such handbooks (and companions, guides, etc.) which, for a layperson like myself, provide excellent ports of entry into their respective topics (for some of the reasons you mention here).

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