The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law.

Author:Childress, Donald Earl, III
Position:Book review
 
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The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law. Edited by Anne Orford & Florian Hoffman, with Martin Clark. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xxxi, 1045. Index. $210.

International law scholarship today is variable. As in other areas of legal scholarship, there have been debates between formalists and realists. International law scholarship grounded in other approaches, such as naturalism, pragmatism, institutionalism, and transnational legal process, has also engendered sophisticated scholarly debates both within and between these techniques. According to two leading commentators, there may be as many as seven dominant methods of international law scholarship: "legal positivism, the New Haven School, international legal process, critical legal studies, international law and international relations, feminist jurisprudence, and law and economics." (1) This wealth of perspectives is due in part to the fact that political and economic realities impact local conditions differently. When writers reflect on international law, they bring the commitments of the legal and political cultures from which they write, at least in part, to the conversation, thus contributing to the pluralism of international law scholarship.

Most in vogue at present is an "empirical turn" in international law scholarship. (2) Empiricism has been ascendant because many believe that " [i]nternational legal scholarship has long suffered from too much normative theorizing and too little positive analysis about how the international legal system actually works." (3) As such,

[a] new generation of scholars, steeped in a variety of social scientific methodologies, has turned its sights on international law and is actively employing positive theories of state behavior to enhance legal analyses. These scholars have also begun to undertake empirical studies in an effort to provide support for their theoretical claims. (4) Importantly, while this

empirical turn is not atheoretical... it generally is not aimed at building grand meta-theory. Instead it focuses on midrange theorizing concerning the conditions under which international law (IL) is formed and those under which it has effects in different contexts, aiming to explain variation. (5) Even with the ascendance of empiricism, international law scholarship today frequently does not employ one single method; it often combines methodological approaches, and has thus engendered many mixed methods. The turn to empiricism has challenged but not replaced other international law methods. (6)

As important as method is, theory is also a key part of international law. This is so because "[u]nlike other...

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