Explaining Power and Authority in International Courts

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It has recently been suggested that the study of international legal life should take an ‘empirical turn’:
a turn which has often focused on how patterns of authority emerge and operate in relation to
international courts. In what follows it is argued that this empiricism fails to distinguish (for the
purposes of sociological inquiry) authority from various other concepts such as power or consensus
in the study of international law and courts. This is because this method focuses only on overt signs,
such as observable action or statements of intention. However, one solution to this problem, which
is to collapse socially significant and distinct categories such as authority and consensus into a broad
category of ‘power’, requires the adoption of an implausible and inconsistent view of agency in
explanations of legal authority. By contrast, and in line with the long-standing interpretivist tradition
in sociological and legal method, we claim that in order to interpret the observable signs of compliance
to international legal rules and principles as indicative of authority, consensus, or power, it is necessary
to interpolate an account of the reasons which give rise the compliance we observe. This, in turn,
explains why international legal doctrine, as an axiological structure, gives rise to the behaviour of its
addressees, such as state officials
TidsskriftLeiden Journal of International Law
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)533-546
Antal sider14
StatusUdgivet - 2021

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