Research Handbook on the Sociology of International Law
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Research Handbook on the Sociology of International Law

Edited by Moshe Hirsch and Andrew Lang

Bringing together a highly diverse body of scholars, this comprehensive Research Handbook explores recent developments at the intersection of international law, sociology and social theory. It showcases a wide range of methodologies and approaches, including those inspired by traditional social thought as well as less familiar literature, including computational linguistics, performance theory and economic sociology. The Research Handbook highlights anew the potential contribution of sociological methods and theories to the study of international law, and illustrates their use in the examination of contemporary problems of practical interest to international lawyers.
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Chapter 17: Locked in language: historical sociology and the path dependency of investment treaty design

Wolfgang Alschner


Past legal language exerts an almost magnetic force on negotiators. From boilerplate treaties or copy-and-paste adaptations to the codification of prior jurisprudence – practitioners constantly recycle already existent terms, phrases, and concepts into new legal outputs. This chapter links the reproduction of legal language to the concept of path-dependency and applies it to international investment agreements. The chapter shows that historical sociology rather than rational design helps to explain the path-dependent style and content of today’s investment regime. Using the fair and equitable treatment clause as a case study, the chapter traces how these clauses first emerged haphazardly in investment law, yet then became entrenched through efficiency considerations, sociological forces, and cognitive biases. The ensuing path-dependency has prevented adaptations of superior treaty design alternatives, and instead geared negotiators into reproducing or refining the fair and equitable treatment standard. Differently put, negotiators have become locked in language. The chapter concludes by outlining ways in which current reform efforts can overcome the system’s path-dependency to allow for innovation inspired not by past practices but by current needs.

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