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 8: Ignorance/power: rule of law reform and the administrative law of global governance

Deval Desai


This chapter explores the emergence and implications of a new type of legal expertise in development. This expertise, found in a set of contemporary rule of law and governance reformers, openly denies its own capacity for knowledge about the institutions it purports to reform. Referring to it as ‘expert ignorance’, this chapter provides some initial methodological and analytical foundations for its study. The chapter problematizes the purchase over expert ignorance of existing sociological modes of studying expertise. It then draws on the emerging literature on the sociology of ignorance for insights and to develop a methodological apparatus. The chapter applies this apparatus to problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA), a recent effort to formalize expert ignorance in development practice. It argues that PDIA shows the importance of sociologizing the specific ways in which PDIA tries to inculcate within reformers, and organize a specific sensibility towards institutional reform. The chapter concludes with some broader reflections on how and why sociologically inclined scholars of global governance might study expert ignorance.

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