International Law as Behavior Symposium: An Introduction

by Harlan Cohen

[Harlan Cohen is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law]

This past November, the University of Georgia School of Law and the ASIL International Legal Theory Interest Group convened a book workshop on “International Law as Behavior,” at Tillar House, ASIL’s headquarters in Washington, DC. The workshop brought together scholars working in variety of different fields, including anthropology, behavioral law and economics, constructivist international relations theory, organizations theory, rational choice, social psychology, and sociology, to discuss how these approaches might best be applied to the study of international law, how these approaches can complement each other, the opportunities and challenges of working across these fields, and the development of a common language and tools to study how international actors actually behave. Participants included Anne van Aaken (University of St. Gallen), Elena Baylis (University of Pittsburgh School of Law), Tomer Broude (Hebrew University Faculty of Law), Adam Chilton (University of Chicago School of Law), Sungjoon Cho (IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law), Jean Galbraith (University of Pennsylvania Law School), Ron Levi (University of Toronto Global Affairs and Sociology), Tim Meyer (University of Georgia School of Law), Galit Sarfaty (University of British Columbia Faculty of Law), and Kathryn Sikkink (Harvard Kennedy School). A book based on presentations at the workshop that I will be editing will follow.

The workshop and book arise out of an intuition that there is more international legal scholars can learn from sophisticated work on legal behavior developing in other disciplines and more that scholars drawing on those disciplines can learn from each other. International law and legal scholars have long borrowed from a variety of disciplines to help understand the functioning of the international system. Important work on international law, including work of the New Haven and English Schools, has drawn on Law & Society, Anthropology, Constructivism, Linguistics, and Sociology. Drawing on international relations and economics, scholars have invoked principles of rational design to explain the shape of international agreements and international organizations and the choice between hard and soft law. Economic analysis has helped explain cooperation and compliance. Most recently, international law scholars have begun to draw insights from behavioral law and economics and psychology.

Instead of informing and enriching each other, however, these varied approaches have often developed in parallel and isolation, siloed off from the insights of the others. Drawing from distinct fields with their own languages and methods, scholars pursuing these approaches have often ended up talking past each other – if they spoke to each other at all. (There are obviously exceptions to these trends, including contributors to this project; readers of these posts know who you are.) The goal of this workshop and the edited volume to follow is to begin to bridge those gaps and foster the conversation between methods and approaches that might form the foundation for a study of international law as behavior. How do international actors actually behave and what drives their behavior? How and when is their rationality bounded by psychology? How do they operate as members of groups and recipients of culture? How do they write and follow organizational scripts? Dialogue between these approaches should only help to enrich all of them, suggesting new paths, blindspots, and even wrong-turns for each. Some of these methods will fit together well; others, whether because of initial assumptions or research styles and demands, may not. And, different approaches may have an advantage depending on the specific questions about international behavior being asked. But it is exactly these questions that we hope to explore.

Over the next few days, Galit Sarfaty, Jean Galbraith, Tim Meyer, Elena Baylis, Tomer Broude and I hope to give you a flavor of the presentations and conversations at the November workshop. Thank you to Opinio Juris for allowing us to showcase some of this project here. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and to kicking off Opinio Juris’ tenth year in style!

http://opiniojuris.org/2015/01/19/international-law-behavior-symposium-introduction/

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