Academic Learning in Law

Academic Learning in Law

Theoretical Positions, Teaching Experiments and Learning Experiences

Edited by Bart van Klink and Ubaldus de Vries

This timely book calls for a critical re-evaluation of university legal education, with the particular aim of strengthening its academic nature. It emphasizes lecturers’ responsibility to challenge the assumptions students have about law, and the importance of putting law in a theoretical and social context that allows for critical reflection and sceptical detachment. In addition, the book reports upon teaching experiences and innovations, offering tools for teachers to strengthen the academic nature of legal education.

Chapter 6: Teaching international law critically – critical pedagogy and Bildung as orientations for learning and teaching

Christine Schwöbel-Patel

Subjects: law - academic, legal philosophy, legal theory, research methods in law, research methods, research methods in law


International law is largely taught in a way which aims to inculcate a language of expertise employed in international legal organizations. Such training is causing the reproduction of a cultural hegemony in the classroom, in the law school, and society at large. In the following, I investigate whether there is a possibility (and an obligation) for teachers of international law to disrupt this reproduction, to be counter-hegemonic in their teaching. In particular, I am interested in the relationship between critical theory in teaching and the demands of teaching law as a profession. Teachers of (international) law often feel that theory is something that needs to be ‘slipped into’ a more practice-oriented syllabus. They feel market pressures demand a doctrinal mode of teaching rather than one which looks at law in context. Market pressures may be exerted by student numbers signing up to courses, by the way in which courses are marketed to prospective students, and by the students’ potential employers. These market pressures may lead to a feeling of compulsion to teach ‘doctrine’ as opposed to, or instead of, ‘theory’. The defining features of the former would be that it concerns a rather technical debate about what the law is or should be in a given situation; the latter concerns questions of contextualization, asking, for example, whether lawmaking processes are biased, for example, in favour of a particular class, race, or gender.

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