Concepts for International Law
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Concepts for International Law

Contributions to Disciplinary Thought

Edited by Jean d’Aspremont and Sahib Singh

Concepts shape how we understand and participate in international legal affairs. They are an important site for order, struggle and change. This comprehensive and authoritative volume introduces a large number of concepts that have shaped, at various points in history, international legal practice and thought; intimates at how the many projects of international law have grappled with, and influenced, the world through certain concepts; and introduces new concepts into the discipline.
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Chapter 3: Authority

Başak Çalı


This chapter reflects on how the concept of authority shapes the way we think about international law. The chapter argues that the concept of authority has been a placeholder for a wide range of concerns in international law scholarship, both normative and empirical. This is in part unsurprising, as authority has had a similar fate in other domains of inquiry. Given the contested nature of authority within and outside the discipline of international law, the chapter follows a dual strategy to unpack how the concept of authority informs international law thinking and critical engagement. It first visits how core features and boundaries of the concept of authority, with an emphasis on the secular authority of a sovereign and its laws have been debated outside of the discipline of international law in the neighbouring disciplines of political theory and sociology. Next it surveys the reception of the concept of authority within international law by highlighting the dominance of the domestic liberal analogy on the one hand and the normative–empirical divide in the use of the concept of authority on the other. In the final part the chapter focuses on the contemporary critical usage of authority in international law, marked by framing the authority of international law as ‘rising’ or ‘changing form’ in the international realm.

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