International Law and Multinormativity

The powerful and complex system of norms we nowadays refer to as international law originated from the European Law of Nations. Today, it provides the framework for relations between a multiplicity of actors. Since its emergence, however, it is not only the terminology that has changed (Ius Publicum Europaeum à International Law/Droit International/Völkerrecht), but also its underlying concepts, such as statehood, sovereignty, and political legitimacy. In the last decades, the steady increase of international legal norms in the context of globalization has led to the juridification of ever more aspects of inter-state relations.

Despite these momentous changes, clear and strong lines of continuity run between past and present international law, both in state practice and in doctrine. Critical approaches in legal history and legal scholarship, which are featured in this project, aim to identify and analyze these continuities, and seek to challenge established narratives on institutions, actors, and legal structures. Important impulses for such approaches derive from postcolonial studies, global history and related disciplines, which open up new perspectives on both the history and the present form of international relations and international law. Critical legal scholars and historians thus argue that narratives like those of “progress” and “civilization” were used to legitimize Western hegemony also in terms of international law, and that these persist in international law discourses, having merely been rephrased in terms of economic and social development policies.

This research engages these issues through conferences and publications. International law is only one system of rules alongside other normative fields: its manifold and complex interactions with other normativities are analyzed from the perspective of “multi-normativity”. This term describes the cooperation, conflict and coexistence of law with non-legal norms, such as morality, religious law, social conventions and technical standards. The relations of these different normativities produce the complex and often contradictory regulatory regimes which shape today’s global order, mirroring the ambivalence and fragmentation of modern societies.

2019 marked the centenary of the Paris Peace Treaties of 1919 – an international global order that particularly shaped Central and Eastern Europe but which remains contested not only among legal scholars until today. Several talks on these treaties were given by Milos Vec in Frankfurt, Stockholm, Vienna, and Paris in the course of an international conference at the German Historical Institute (DHI). In January, his research on outlaw weapons was concluded with a talk in Vienna as a monthly lecture at the IWM, which will be published by a Japanese publishing house in 2020.

A new book project was launched as part of The Cambridge History series on the history of international law with the working title “Western International Law, 1776 – ca. 1870”, co-edited by Milos Vec and Paulina Starski (Heidelberg/Hamburg), was launched. This period covers the heyday of the so-called European Law of Nations, a normative order based on treaties, customs as well as on natural law and spreading all over the world, fueled by ideas of constitutionalism and international rule of law as well as industrial revolution, imperialism, colonialism and also racism. A first meeting with potential book authors as well as representatives of the CUP publishing house took place at beginning of October 2019 in Cambridge. Already in September 2019, the IWM hosted an author’s workshop, bringing together chapter authors with discussants from various disciplines to discuss methodological and substantive issues.



Publications and Events

Head of Program

  • Miloš Vec

    IWM Permanent Fellow
    Professor of European Legal and Constitutional History, University of Vienna
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Former Fellows & Guests

  • Andrew Brandel

    PhD in Anthropology, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
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  • Filipe Calvao

    Assistant Professor , Department of Anthropology and Sociology of Development, Graduate Institute, Geneva
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  • Till van Rahden

    Canada Research Chair in German and European Studies, Centre Canadien D‘Études Allemandes et Européennes, Université de Montréal
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