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 40: Legal form

Umut Özsu


This chapter considers the theory and politics of international legal formalism. I argue that we ought to acknowledge the full implications of the insight that international law is anchored in extralegal dynamics while being informed by relatively autonomous structures of its own. Broached from this sociolegal perspective, antiformalism today should be understood not as a grand theoretical innovation, to be lauded or lambasted, but as a piece of commonplace wisdom, fully capable of being absorbed into any neoformalism that has come to terms with the legal realist challenge, distanced itself from bourgeois models of internal coherence and immanent intelligibility, and adopted the crucial, if somewhat prosaic, goal of supplying weaker actors with at least a limited measure of defensive tools. The truly pressing question today, I contend, is not whether to be a formalist, but how one ought to be a formalist.

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