The Politics of International Law 

We are pleased to announce the second biennial Dean Maxwell and Isle Cohen Doctoral Seminar in International Law to take place on 15 and 16 June 2012, at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, in Montreal.

The aim of this second seminar is to explore the relationships between law and politics at the international level, with a focus on the competing themes of realism and idealism. The idealists of the 19th and 20th centuries had great ambitions for international law, considering it to be the primary basis for civilization and progress. The influence of realpolitik, they believed, would decline as States increasingly grasped the benefits of international cooperation and the costs of pursuing narrow self-interest.

The various themes that conference papers might address include but are not limited to the following:

Is our current conception of international law outdated, and does that give more room for political considerations to influence international law in ways deleterious to its legitimacy?

Does the current state of international law, particularly with respect to the use of force, represent the legalization of politics?

What is the relationship between law and politics? How do they interrelate and how are they distinct? How well is this distinction managed at the international level?

Are we witnessing devolution, or a return to the "local," in ways that reject or undermine international law? Is it beneficial or detrimental to the goals that international law should or does pursue that regional actors have gained authority as the de facto decision-makers about major issues, including the propriety of the use of force, in their spheres of influence.

What are the various sources of political pressures on international decision-makers? Can they overcome these pressures to arrive at decisions based on the rule of law? For example, how could their accountability be enhanced?

Non-state actors, of all kinds - NGOS, corporations, individuals - play an increasingly prominent role in international law. To what kinds of political influences are they subject? Are they a source of political pressure? To whom are they accountable? To whom should they be accountable?

Are we witnessing a democratization of international law? How could or should such a process unfold?

Is the emphasis on international law in the shape of formal norms and institutions misplaced considering the power imbalance between States and people organized as civil society and what role does a grassroots democratic process have in re-shaping international norms and institutions?

Do concepts such as fragmentation and constitutionalism, or approaches such as Global Administrative Law, shed light on the relationship between law and politics, or on questions of international law's legitimacy?

Instructions for abstract/paper submission

Doctoral and post-doctoral researchers wishing to participate in the conference must electronically submit an abstract, by April 10, 2012, to Professor Jaye Ellis (

Abstract submissions MUST include the following:

Name and contact details of the presenter,
Title of the presentation,
Abstract of the presentation (600 words),
A short biographical profile of the presenter for dissemination (not more than 5 lines).
A one-page bio of the presenter

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