Georgia Law Professor Harlan Cohen on “Metaphors of International Law”

Harlan G. Cohen, Gabriel M. Wilner/UGA Foundation Professor in International Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law, has posted “Metaphors of International Law”, to appear in International Law’s Invisible Frames – Social Cognition and Knowledge Production in International Legal Processes.

Set to be published by Oxford University Press in 2021, the volume is co-edited by Andrea Bianchi, Professor of International Law at Switzerland’s Graduate Institute Geneva, and Moshe Hirsch, Maria Von Hofmannsthal Chair in International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Cohen presented the essay at a European Society of International Law workshop in Israel last December (prior post).

Here’s the abstract:

This chapter explores international law in search of its hidden and not-so-hidden metaphors. In so doing, it discovers a world inhabited by states, where rules are mined or picked when ripe, where trade keeps boats forever afloat on rising tides. But is also unveils a world in which voices are silenced, inequality is ignored, and hands are washed of responsibility.

International law is built on metaphors. Metaphors provide a language to describe and convey the law’s operation, help international lawyers identify legal subjects and categorize situations in doctrinal categories, and provide normative justifications for the law. Exploring their operation at each of these levels, this chapter describes the ways metaphors allow international lawyers to build a shared, tangible universe of legal meaning. But it also reveals how metaphors simultaneously help hide international law’s dark side, blind international lawyers to alternative ways of organizing the world, and prejudge legal outcomes. Metaphors, a key building block of the international law we know, become key also to its demolition, restoration, or remodeling.

The chapter is now available at SSRN.

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