Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism
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Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism

Edited by Shauhin Talesh, Elizabeth Mertz and Heinz Klug

This insightful Research Handbook provides a definitive overview of the New Legal Realism (NLR) movement, reaching beyond historical and national boundaries to form new conversations. Drawing on deep roots within the law-and-society tradition, it demonstrates the powerful virtues of new legal realist research and its attention to the challenges of translation between social science and law. It explores an impressive range of contemporary issues including immigration, policing, globalization, legal education, and access to justice, concluding with and examination of how different social science disciplines intersect with NLR.
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Chapter 18: The life of the law has not been logic it has been experience: International legal ethnography and the New Legal Realism

Jens Meierhenrich and Richard Ashby Wilson


Scholars in law and the social sciences are calling into question the conventional doctrinal account of how international law works. We join this chorus by extolling the virtues of a new method for studying the social life of international law: international legal ethnography. Ethnographic approaches advance the project of the New Legal Realism by explaining legal outcomes through a multidisciplinary study of concrete institutional practices and the subjectivity of legal actors in international justice institutions. A full understanding of why international courts produce influential legal precedent as well as incoherent law and failed prosecutions requires a grasp of both international legal doctrine as well as the organizational culture and quotidian practice of international organizations. International justice institutions are neither insulated from the vagaries of global politics, nor simply reducible to them. Because of their unique and structurally-fragile position betwixt and between national legal cultures, international criminal tribunals have of necessity created a socialization process that inculcates distinctive norms, practices and values among its staff, a process that has identifiable consequences for legal process and outcomes. Our ultimate goal is neither naïve faith in the probity of international tribunals, nor a reflexively moral dystopianism, but a clear-eyed assessment of both the successes and shortcomings of international justice institutions.

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