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 7: International lawyers and the study of expertise: representationalism and performativity

Andrew Lang


This chapter uses the literature on indicators in global governance as the starting point for a reflection on the assumptions which international lawyers have tended to bring to their study of expertise – concerning what knowledge is, the sort of social work it does, and the range of critical responses which are most usefully brought to bear on it. Using a distinction between the idioms of ‘performativity’ and ‘representationalism’ drawn from sociology of science, the chapter argues that there are some aspects of contemporary expert practices in global governance which are inadequately accounted for when international lawyers work within the representationalist idiom. The author observes that a number of post-structuralist, post-positivist critical responses to universalizing knowledge have already been internalized into the practice of global expertise, rendering most of the traditional critical toolkit beside the point. The author claims that refreshing our conceptual apparatus, by adopting some version of a ‘performative idiom’ in our approach to expertise in global governance, may help us to see and understand more fully the range of work which knowledge practices do in contemporary global governance, and help us to develop a different toolkit of interventions by which we may adequately respond to them.

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