[Harlan Cohen is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law]
What is the study of “International Law as Behavior”? At the workshop in November, Elena Baylis, Tomer Broude, Galit Sarfaty, Jean Galbraith, and Tim Meyer (whose chapters/presentations were described earlier) were joined by Kathryn Sikkink, who presented on the role of agency in constructivism, Ron Levi and Sungjoon Cho, who drew upon sociology to study the “fields” of international criminal law and international human rights practice and the social structure of the WTO, respectively, Adam Chilton, who presented on the potential of experimental methods for studying human rights, and Anne van Aaken, who explored behavioral law and economics’ implications for international legal theory. What, if anything, binds these ten projects together? Are there lessons to be learned about how these projects and methods can fit together into some greater whole? These will be topics discussed in the book arising out of this project, but for now, a few thoughts on ways forward.
It can be tempting to see these projects as puzzle pieces, which when assembled in the correct order, reveal a larger picture of the international order. Each brings its own insights: Rational choice sets up testable, generalizable hypotheses about how states might interact given express assumptions about state behavior. Sociology, anthropology, and behavioral law and economics can test those hypotheses against real world scenarios, explaining why specific situations diverge from those expectations, whether as a result of social structures, culture, or human psychology. Experimental methods can help identify the actual preferences of international actors. Constructivist accounts can build upon sociology, anthropology, and psychology to explain where state preferences come from and how they change. Focused primarily on different, overlapping units of analysis—individual actors, the communities in which they practice, the culture in which their embedded, the states on behalf of whom they act, and the larger structures in which those states are embedded, these approaches might seem like natural complements—snapshots taken from one angle, which when spliced together might provide a panoramic view of the international system. Together, these accounts might provide a more complex account of the different processes, preferences, beliefs, and incentives that might drive the vast array of actors who operate in international law, whether grass-root activists, transnational norm advocates, technocratic experts, politicians, bureaucratic careerists, or diplomats. Where these levers converge or diverge may help explain both the emergence of consensus over rules and continued contestation. Successful strategies for achieving particular international goals will flip all the right switches.
But imagining all of these accounts as different harmonies converging in one glorious tune is too simplistic and overly optimistic; (more…)