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 41: Legality

Fleur Johns


Legality – the ‘spirit or way of thinking characteristic of the legal profession’ or the ‘quality of being legal or in conformity with the law’ – is a condition with which international lawyers might be expected to exhibit relative comfort. Not so. Far from naming common ground upon which international lawyers routinely assemble, legality marks a site of intense and unresolved conflict. It is a condition that international lawyers aspire to secure, and perennially worry about failing to bring about. This chapter demonstrates how international law’s fraught sense of legality is crafted and experienced by attention to a highly controversial judicial ruling – that of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in July 1966, in the South West Africa cases. It writes legality as an incident of experimental practice that entails making ‘fictional’ a politics of norms and normalcy. It does so drawing upon the experience of ‘fiction’ with which Michel Foucault experimented in his later work.

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