This chapter introduces the concept of semantic authority, defined as an actor’s capacity to find acceptance for its interpretative claims or to establish its own statements about the law as content-laden reference points for legal discourse that others can hardly escape. In order to both clarify its heritage and its novelty, the chapter first provides an account of the theoretical context in which the concept of semantic authority is embedded – the lines of thinking in whose wake the concept starts making sense. The concept is above all indebted to understandings of (international) law as a product of its communicative practice. In contrast to similar past and present voices, however, it purports to highlight the powerful actors in legal discourse so as to anchor critique and normative inquiry. Second, the chapter clarifies the nature of semantic authority and the dynamics that sustain it. While persuasiveness can increase an actor’s semantic authority, it is a constitutive feature of such authority that it must persist in the absence of agreement in substance. What is more, while semantic authority thrives on sociological legitimacy, the question of whether it is indeed well justified is a separate one. Among the factors that sustain it, the capacity to link up with tradition stands out. Third and finally, the chapter summarizes the concept’s trajectory—what has been done with it and how it might develop still further.
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