CISTAS in Sydney

CISTAS researcher, Maj Grasten, gives talk at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS)

“Rule of Law or Rule by Lawyers? On the Politics of Translation in International Law”

What is it about the rule of law that has endowed this ambiguous concept with such normative currency, resilience, and power so that it is increasingly used to justify international interventions and authority, even as many projects carried out in its name fail? In international relations the rule of law has become a signifier of a set of universal promises each of which carries a particular view of what world should be made real. But what happens once the rule of law ‘hits the ground’? This seminar is about the rule of law in global governance and legal expertise. It addresses the issue of how contested concepts, vague wordings and political promises combine with international legal expertise to shape political and social realities in the making of global order(s). Drawing on the case of internationally administered rule of law reforms in post-conflict Kosovo, Maj Grasten will pursue a multi-sited ethnographic exploration of international lawyers’ activities within the UN transitional administration (1999–2008) and the EU’s rule of law mission (2008–), tracing different and often conflicting meanings that these lawyers inscribe into the concept of the rule of law. She will reconstruct battles between international actors over the ascendance of a particular meaning of the rule of law, which in turn would authorize one group of actors, and their attending solutions to a ‘problem’, over other actors and their solutions. The seminar foregrounds how legal translations, which often reside in the background of humanitarian policies and practices, are indeterminate, contingent, and yet highly performative in momentarily asserting a particular social order within a post-conflict state-building context. Reconstructing the epistemic and social roots of the rule of law’s practical meanings in the case of rule of law reforms in post-conflict Kosovo, the seminar points to some general issues and instances regarding the role and rule of international law after intervention, revealing the darker sides of humanitarianism.


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