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  4. The Process of International Legal Reproduction: Capitalism, Historiography and the State




The Process of International Legal Reproduction: Capitalism, Historiography and the State




Series: ILAG

Speaker: Dr Rose Parfitt (Kent Law School & Melbourne Law School)


The work presented in this seminar builds directly on the contribution of scholars associated with the ‘turn to history’ in international law. As these colleagues have insisted, the colonial encounter was the foundry in which international law’s central concepts were cast, including the concept of sovereignty. Since non-European communities were excluded from international legal subjectivity on the grounds of their failure to meet the so-called ‘standard of civilisation’, non-European sovereignty continues to be tainted by that allegation of barbarity.

Yet if some sovereigns are more equal than others, former colonies are not the only international persons whose rights appear at times to be less than robust, and whose duties seem sometimes more onerous. Some European states, for example, from inter-war Czechoslovakia to present-day Greece, have possessed a form of international legal subjectivity that does not seem ‘equal’ to that, say, of France or Britain. Conversely, China is not the only international person to have made the transition from partial international legal object to full international legal subject; one might even put the US in that category. Many indigenous communities -- in India and Ethiopia, for instance -- have suffered as much at the hands of postcolonial governments as they have under colonial regimes. At the same time, settler states in general, from Colombia to Australia, not to mention many territories in the former Soviet bloc, are difficult to make sense of in terms of their vulnerability to intervention on a European/non-European, colonial/post-colonial axis.

The research presented here attempts to find a more general way of accounting for the relationship between sovereign equality and sovereign inequality without displacing the colonial encounter from the centre of its concerns. It does so by taking international law on its own terms. Instead of focusing on the so-called ‘standard of civilisation’, it shifts its focus of inquiry to the process by which new international persons are brought into being. This process, referred to here as that of ‘international legal reproduction’, is both interpellative and coercive – driven forwards by a combination of desire and compulsion. At its core (it will be argued) lies a conditional relationship between international and individual legal subject – between the state and the individual – which, thanks to international law, has been not only globalised but internalised over a period of 400 years or more. In sum, it is, to a significant degree, because international rights and duties have consistently been predicated on the reproduction of a particular form of individual legal subjectivity that the conditions essential to the establishment of capitalist relations of production and exchange have been reproduced and spread out across the surface of the earth. The effects of this system on the distribution of wealth, power and pleasure are well known.  


Rose Parfitt is a Lecturer in Law at Kent Law School. She is currently based at Melbourne Law School, where she holds an ARC (Australian Research Council) Discovery Early Career Research Award. She is interested in the history and theory of international law, with a particular focus on critical historiography and art theory, and on the concept of international personality. Her current research project examines the relationship between fascism and international law. She has taught or teaches at institutions including the Institute for Global Law & Policy (Harvard Law School), the American University in Cairo, SOAS, the London School of Economics, the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights (Helsinki Law School), Los Andes University and Melbourne Law School.

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When and where

1.00pm - 3.00pmWednesday 23rd November 2016

BM02 University Building City, University of London Northampton Square London EC1V 0HB United Kingdom

Contact Details

Kate Barnes

PhD Course Officer

City, University of London
Northampton Square
United Kingdom

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