20 Dec Symposium on Classism and the International Legal Profession: C-Lexicon – Between Visible and Invisible
[Elisabetta Baldassini, PhD is a researcher on international law and international relations, currently working as policy advisor for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)]
Class and classism affect international legal scholarship in a number of manners, sometimes imperceptible ones, and create a wide array of inequalities entrenched in international legal professions. The most visible form of inequality that class and classism (hereinafter, collectively, C) generate is reflected in the financial dimension of the single individual that may drive a person’s choices against a specific university, or profession, or other academic endeavors. However, there are many other forms of C shaping inequalities from within. Construed on a set of invisible criteria, the lexicon that an international (and non-international) legal profession requires is one of its many forms.
The Invisible College
Characterized by diverse national and cultural backgrounds, behind the scenes of the making of international legal scholarship a group of individuals intersects on a multilayered collaboration for the sake of creating a collective conscience juridique. Such a presumably closed club has engaged for centuries through quasi-invisible interactions dedicated at translating a shared sense of justice into a living codified body of international law. Oscar Schachter identified it in 1973 as the ‘invisible college of international lawyers’ (see also here and here).
The visible outcome of those quasi-invisible interactions is the making of international legal scholarship. It has grown out of the expression of national and socio-cultural backgrounds of each member of the invisible college, blended with judicial facts of national and international nature, individual interpretations, and the lines upon which international law is framed.
But how can such an apparently diverse community soaked in intrinsic distinctions manage to merge together their theories into a shared outcome?
As demonstrated by Luiza Leão Soares Pereira and Niccolò Ridi, there is a lack of diversity that characterizes the invisible college of international lawyers. They tend to be a tight-knit group of people, predominantly white men from the western developed world, influenced by unconscious national and cultural bias. Pereira and Ridi’s network analysis features western privileged universities, like Oxford and Cambridge, to be common nodes that characterize those members of the invisible college with a high degree of influence within the community. Western-ism and the expression of gender, class, education, and cultural backgrounds were given power in knowledge production shaping the evolution of a privileged intellectual class as the maker of international law. Anthea Roberts identifies it as disproportionately influenced by ‘western actors, materials and approaches in general, and Anglo-American in particular’ as dominant groups in the making of international law (see also Koskenniemi’s work). The way the invisible college is organized, thus matters for its content.
C-class and Inherited Inequalities
Western-ism, C-, and gender, seem to be therefore the elements reproducing a constructed image of the self, society and group within certain structural criteria that define the lives and work of international legal professionals. Transmitted through generations and connected to C-driven inequalities, these criteria wield authority on a person’s factual or perceived chances of accessing and completing a certain education and so, in determining their first occupational attainments. Those perceived chances, inherited, become agents of individual choices.
But what are those chances? Stemming from the above rationale, those chances derive from a predefined class, western and gender conditions.
The most visible of the invisible is the financial condition driving choices, that responds to the costs that professional development in the field of international law entails. Considering the preference, or precondition, for acknowledged privileged Anglo-American institutions, unpaid internships in international bodies at the top of this field and the increasing neoliberal marketization of the academia that endorses the need for continuous engagement and presence in conferences, workshops, and similar fora of international relevance, on the quantity publications in relevant journals, and memberships to relevant international law societies with barely any financial support, the costs are very high. The financial dimension of classism therefore wields authority on factual and perceived chances and can become the most visible barrier of a person’s choices. Conditio sine qua non to enter the invisible college, only a small portion of the bubble can afford to become visible therein.
However, there is a broad set of C-rules that shape such visibility wielding authority on perceived chances beyond the financial one. All the above engagements, including drafting, editing, and the sort shapes those chances in relation to time, space, personal, social, linguistic capacities, based on C-criteria determined by the invisible college.
There is a whole machinery of selection process that picks and chooses who manages to be visible enough for the invisible college-based capacities-capital. Those who remain invisible will hardly be able to make ends meet.
From Material to Mental Inequalities
The invisible college of international lawyers is formed by an internationally minded community, a relatively little one, that extends its power through the making—to a large extent—of international legal scholarship. Requirements to enter the club beyond the confines of their financial expression appear individually through attitudes, behaviors, and practices. Together they form a series of C-rules of standardized skills and capacity-capital that create and maintain a system of inequalities. To fit the expected C-structure, each member of such a small elite forming the invisible college has to balance the individual subjectivity and view of self with those C-rules.
Nicos Poulantzas (see here, here and here) identified classes on the basis of political, ideological and economic capacities framed at the intersection of the distinctions between productive, unproductive, manual, and mental labor. Accordingly, immaterial production reflects the work of those who fall within the scope of Poulantzas’ notion of new petty bourgeoisies. Using the ideological criteria, immaterial ideological production means being productive in a non-manual manner yet through standardized skills dictated by the selective appropriation of dominant classes. Members of the petty bourgeoisie are specialists and play a role in the formation of ideological dominance over the working class.
As productive mental workers—makers of immaterial mental productions—the invisible college of international lawyers fits the conditions for being member of the new petty bourgeoisie as bearers of such a relation of ideological domination.
Reconnecting the dots from the earlier rationale, the capacities-capital necessary to be visible enough for the invisible college, equal to such standardized skills dictated by the dominant class necessary for immaterial ideological production. As a community that invisibly interacts, yet become visible through typed, written, and shared language, the lexicon becomes vector and vehicle of the work of the invisible college. A standardized language is hence necessary to allow those interactions to produce the conscience juridique, and the dominant class, white male, western, privileged, creators of international law, dictates the linguistic rules as standardized skills for the common enterprise the invisible college has to use.
Lexicon for the C-common Enterprise
Lexicon becomes in international law expression of C-rules shaping inequalities from within the invisible C. As linguistic capacities-capital that each individual holds, the lexicon can both be of inherited and acquired nature. In its inherited type, it tends to reproduce pre-existing, long or short-term, C-differences among individuals. Being part of a white, western, bourgeoise class inherited language capacity reflects such characterization and presumably contains features of those C-language rules as standardized skills selectively appropriated and normalized by the individual, necessary to enter the invisible college of international lawyers. The process of normalization of a behavior or a skill grants a degree of confidence to the individual expressing such a capacity-capital. Vice-versa, when such a C-capacity-capital has to be acquired and developed by the individual, in a manner that it is at first not natural nor familiar but stranger, instead of a perceived confidence in the use and expression of such skills, a form of perceived insecurity can appear. Inherited language capital that meets the criteria of the C-rules of the invisible college allocates an intrinsic advantage to becoming a visible member.
The idea of confidence and familiarity in this work is meant to denote specific features that derive from the cognitive impact of past behaviors in a way that affects the individual agency in life decisions (for more on this see here and here). It means that the person’s perception of past behaviors influences decisions in a sort of repetition of that behavior – in this case a profession or the use of a language. Perceived as familiar, it reduces feelings of insecurity and increases those of belonging.
Lexicon is the molecule of the interactions and work of the invisible college. The use of a common language is what forms the shared methods, styles, and aesthetics, and ensures that a specific message reaches that specific audience. Books, publications, written pieces, conferences, and presentations make the linguistic dimension the most visible element of their invisible final product.
The individual that tries to enter the small club of the invisible college of international lawyers, may fall into a perennial perception of insecurity, resulting from the pick and choose mechanisms of its members on the basis of C-capacity-capital that the condition of petty bourgeoisie characterizing the invisible college upholds. Such insecurity becomes part of the individual subjectivity and view of self when building agency, and weighs on perceived chances and therefore choices that the individual takes.
The lexicon, as C-capacity capital, is the entry-test to the journey towards becoming a member of the invisible college of international legal professions and may unconsciously discourage more of a financial challenge. It is a challenge anyone is hardly aware of, and it is never thought of as ground for inequalities. Yet, it articulates invisible inequalities that live on the work of the invisible college.
It is as well very likely that even if the person tries to break through the repetition of what is perceived as familiar and tries to grow confidence for the acquired capital proving the ability to juggle a specific lexicon as absolutely learnable by anyone – as long as the tools to be able to learn it are offered – it still may reproduce emotions such as anxiety, insecurity, and in some cases the impostor syndrome.
This idea of language and lexicon as a form of C-capacity-capital, can find theoretical basis in Bourdieu’s theories of class. Bourdieu stepped beyond the limited categorization of class determined in the financial sphere alone and deployed the social category of class through the notions of capital and habitus (see also here). Cultural capital refers to socio-cultural competences instilled in individuals by institutions such as family or education and translated into a class habitus. Arising from institutions such as family, they tend to be unevenly distributed depending on the characteristics of the family. Upon this, educational institutions are ‘uniquely situated [to play] a major role in reproducing a society’s class structures’. The standardized cultural capital and habitus—as the standardized skills from Poulantzas’ analysis in relation to the new petty bourgeoisie—engrained in the C-rules of the invisible college, translates into an invisible selective approach that decides who and how can be visible in the invisible college creating a system of multilayered invisibility that seems to recall some sort of Escher’s repeating pattern.
Can the Recent Trend to use an Increasingly Complex Language in International Legal Scholarship be Viewed Through the Lenses of This Analysis?
There is an increasing trend in recent years that sees the use of an increasingly complex language in the production of international legal scholarship, mainly in relation to the work of the academia. Through the lenses of the C-lexicon rationale, the reproduction of C-rules and structures through the standardization of skills characterizing the work and essence of the invisible college as dictated by dominant classes, may have influenced lexicon in a manner that emphasizes on C-differences to legitimate membership to the invisible community. A tightened criteria of the selection process to be visible in the invisible. However, it may also express the individual attempt to prove a view of self that fits that particular system and holds a cultural or symbolic capital that meets the college standards. Or again, an unwitting attempt to solidify a specific class image out of a financially precarious dimension conforming, instead of reforming, C-rules and intrinsically affecting la conscience juridique on the premises of classism¸ in its being western, bourgeois, white and predominantly male, elements of the major critics of international legal scholarship.