The new/old international law (journal)

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Somehow I  missed the release of the new Oxford University Press London Review of International Law journal last September (Thanks Frédéric Mégret for the heads-up). I’m very excited about this and from the journals’ blurb here’s the first reason why:

The London Review of International Law publishes highest-quality scholarship on international law from around the world. Reflecting the pace and reach of developments in the field, the London Review seeks to capture the ways in which received ideas are being challenged and reshaped by new subject-matters, new participants, new conceptual apparatuses and new cross-disciplinary connections. Central aims of the London Review are to encourage imaginative thinking, inspire innovative analysis, and promote excellence in writing. While no area of international legal interest is excluded, the London Review prioritises non-doctrinal scholarship, including theory, history and socio-legal studies.

There are many great international law journals. The American Journal of International Law, European Journal International Law, NYU Journal of International Law & Politics,  Georgetown JIL, Chicago JIL, and Stanford JIL  are, among others, the ones I tend to read the most. There are also several wonderful non-doctrinal, critical law (as in non-international law) journals: Law and Critique, Critical Legal StudiesGriffith Law Review, Journal of Law and Social Justice (formerly Third World Law Journal) and Socio Legal Studies are some of my favourites. But there are fewer journals that combine both a resolute focus on international law and approach it through a decidedly critical lens that also celebrates the inter and cross-disciplinary. I’m not saying they don’t exist, because clearly they do, but I have often felt that many of the international law journals are doctrinally pedantic and require a certain form of legal-ese which can be difficult to read and write for those of us who don’t have formal training in Law (hello Geographers…and nearly everyone else!).

The editorial board (here) features an array of stunning scholars who have done so much to develop and theorise the field of critical (international) legal studies and in the opening pages of the journal, homage is paid – via a wonderful reference to Edward Said’s Beginnings – to the past that has made this beginning possible:

“[…] Said perhaps does well to remind us that there is more to a beginning than simply a point in time (the journal starts now), an action (it hereby comes into being) and a phase or part (this issue is its earliest manifestation). […] The old Germanic root-word of the English ‘to begin’ is ‘ginnan’, meaning ‘to open’ or ‘open up’. Open up what, trained to do so by whom, drawing impetus and inspiration from where? This project plainly does not originate with itself.”

Clearly indebted to theories of post-colonialism, the journal takes seriously those bodies of scholarship forgotten by so many legal formalists, and with editors like Anne Orford, Antony Angie, Frédéric Mégret, Costas Douzinas, Christine Chinkin, Martti Koskenniemi, David Kennedy and B. S. Chimni, the London Review will no doubt provide a platform for Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and Critical Legal Studies (CLS) scholarship.

The first issue is free and open to all (at least for now) and features impressive essays from Fleur Johns (on big data) and Ralf Michaels (on ‘dreaming law without a state‘) and others. A collection of  four papers respond to Anne Orford’s International Authority and the Responsibility to Protect — a book that has been on my reading list for too long — and at the end Orford has a rejoinder enticingly called ‘international legal method’, where she reflects on the importance of thinking history and politics through the juridical:

 “The book is also a wager that there is something to be gained—theoretically, politically and empirically—by developing a primarily juridical (rather than historical, philosophical, economic or sociological) method as a basis for exploring […] contemporary international developments. Juridical thinking frames the problems that the book raises, shapes the archival choices made throughout its research and the construction of its narrative, structures its argument and provides its conceptual underpinnings. Of course, this begs the question of just what ‘juridical thinking’ is, where we might look for it, and to which historical figures and authors we might properly make reference in order to develop a legal analysis that is also critical, idiomatically recognisable and politically useful.”

These are important questions, and Samera Esmeir’s quite wonderful Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History has probed me to think more seriously about how we re-approach ‘the legal’ and how we may read the role of the juridical in history. I’ll save this for another post as I’m still working my way through Esmeir’s colonial history of Egypt (though I will say that for those who liked Timothy Mitchell’s Rule of Experts, Juridical Humanity is a must read).

The issue closes with a provoking photo essay on ‘The lawless line‘ by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Eyal Weizman and Nicola Perugini of the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR) group, an art and architecture collective based in Beit Sahour, Palestine. The images they have produced – a mix of black and white photos and architectural drawings overlaid with thick red ink – are every bit as powerful as they are tragic.

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The essay takes its cue from the political scientist and former major of Jerusalm Meron Benvenisti, and his brilliant question: ‘Who owns the “width of the line?”’. As, Hilal et al show, Benvenisti was referring to the 1948 cease-fire lines between Israel and Jordan and they use it as an opportunity to reflect on the line as an ambiguous space. Exactly what is lawless about it, I’m not sure and they show that the 1948 line (to this we can surely also add the 1967 line, and all the subsequent lines drawn and re-drawn by the Israeli state) divides and disrupts places into two. At the extreme, this division runs literally through the middle of a home, begging the question: to which side of the line does this or that home, or this or that person belong, legally?

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There is no definitive answer, but the remnants of which we witness through the images and, of course, in the destruction of Palestinian homes, as has been so well documented by the Israeli group ICAHD (and for a recent analysis of the parallels between home/space destruction in Palestine-Israel and what is currently happening under Assad in Syria, see Geographical Imaginations here).

But while we’re on the topic of images, the front cover to this first issue of London Review is surely worthy of note. Most law journals don’t have images on the front cover. Even less do they have images like these; the ruins of war. The photo, ‘a bullet-scared outdoor cinema in at the Palace of Culture in the Karte Char district of Kabul’  is Simon Norfolk’s and comes from his ‘Afghanistan: Chronotopia‘ (the images are accompanied by wonderful short essays — see below). Norfolk is a landscape photographer with a difference. From his website: his “work over the last ten years has been themed around a probing and stretching of the meaning of the word ‘battelfield’ in all its forms”. Norfolk’s work is of interest then for multiple reasons – what does an iconography of the expanded, infinite battlespace look like?; what can images achieve in the age of the ‘world-as-battlespace’? – but the reproduction of his haunting photo on the front cover of a law journal offers a promising metaphor for the origins and presents of so much of international law. Perhaps we are being invited here to view the great tragic theatre of international law. International law was born of in war and invasion; visually and metaphorically this seems like a better place to ‘begin’ a journal.

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a bullet-scared outdoor cinema in at the Palace of Culture in the Karte Char district of Kabul
Afghanistan: Chronotopia
Afghanistan: Chronotopia

One Comment

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  1. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    News of an interesting journal, just launched…

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