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 14: An anthropological approach to international economic law

Galit A. Sarfaty


With the growing importance of global legal institutions, new forms of global law, and transnational social movements around legal issues, anthropologists are studying the multiplicity of sites where international law operates. Given the critical need to uncover how international law is produced and operates in practice, legal scholars can gain insights from anthropological literature and adopt ethnographic tools in their own analysis. An anthropological approach can be applied to study a range of legal phenomena, including the organizational behaviour of international institutions; the internalization of international legal norms in local communities; and regulatory tools of global governance. It can uncover the reasons why certain laws are adopted and internalized, the process by which laws are enforced, the interaction between legal and non-legal norms, and the internal decision-making of legal institutions. This chapter analyses the unique insights that anthropology contributes to our understanding of international law behaviour. After describing what an anthropological approach to international law entails, the chapter reviews key contributions that scholars have made in three areas: (1) the cultures of international organizations and international tribunals; (2) the transnational circulation and localization of international legal norms; and (3) the knowledge practices and technologies of governance in international law. Finally, the chapter illustrates the value of an anthropological approach by providing a case-study of the culture of the World Bank, based on extensive ethnographic research.

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