University of Pittsburgh

Sociolegal Methods in International Law

September 4 - 5, 2008

A workshop to explore the role of sociolegal methodologies in describing and defining
the contours of international law





International law seems to be in a perpetual identity crisis. Indeed, it is difficult to reach agreement on what international law is, and even on whether it is law at all. Its content is composed of a mélange of treaties, agreements, declarations, norms, and practices with varying levels of specificity, formality, enforcement, and acceptance, of "soft law" that at times congeals into "hard law" and of hard law that not infrequently languishes unnoticed until soft law brings it into play.

While some areas of international law claim universal or near-universal validity as a defining characteristic, in practice, the legitimacy and role of international law varies considerably amongst different regional, national and sub-national settings. Legal scholars have agonized over the discrepancy between theory and practice and between the rapid expansion of international legal norms and the lagging enforcement of those norms; they have worked to develop models of how international law infiltrates legal systems and how it is used by state and non-state actors in ways less direct than formal enforcement.

Amongst legal scholars who study international law, attention has recently turned to empirical studies that attempt to demonstrate the real world effects (or lack thereof) of international law. With this increase in empirical work, legal scholars are debating the relative efficacy of various quantitative and qualitative methodologies in developing empirical descriptions of international law practice. At the same time, there has been an upsurge in interest in international law, and particularly in international human rights, amongst legal anthropologists.

Against this backdrop, this workshop will explore the role of sociolegal methodologies in describing and defining the contours of international law. It brings together legal anthropologists, legal scholars, and others studying international law from various disciplinary perspectives to discuss their research in international law and their use of various methodologies and theoretical frameworks. The participants include specialists in international human rights law, international criminal law, international environmental law, and other areas. The methodological questions to be addressed are cross-cutting, concerning the role of methodology in shaping our understanding of international law and the challenges international law creates for sociolegal methodologies.


 This workshop was sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh School of  Law , with additional support from the Center for International Legal Education, the University Center for International Studies, and the University of Pittsburgh's  Anthropology Department.  


Thursday September 4

4:00 - 5:30   Introductory roundtable

  • Introduction of participants and their work
  • Brainstorming: what are the methodological questions we face?
5:30 - 6:45 Free time or one of two semi-organized options:    cocktails at Red Room (nouveau Pittsburgh landmark) or visit to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (classic Pittsburgh landmark).

7:00 Dinner at Casbah

Friday September 5

8:30 - 9:00 Continental breakfast available

9:00 - 10:30   Second roundtable: Sociolegal methods

  • How are we studying international law?
  • What do ethnographic, quantitative, & other social science methodologies contribute to international law research?
  • What challenges does international law present for our methodologies?

10:30 - 11:00 Coffee break

11:00 - 12:30   Roundtable 3: International law as subject

  • How do we conceptualize our subject(s) and our purposes? (E.g., are we studying international law as text, process, culture, or something else; focusing on international legal theory and/or practice; creating models; describing intersections between legal systems; and so on.)
  • How does our choice of methodology affect our conceptualization/ construction of our subjects?

12:30 -1 :30 Lunch

1:30 - 3:00   Roundtable 4: Practical methodological problems

  • Spotlight on current research

3:00 - 3:30 Coffee break

3:30 - 4:30   Final roundtable: Identifying themes and conclusions

4:30 - 5:00 Free time

5:00 - 6:15 Andy Warhol Museum "Good Fridays" event.

6:30 Dinner at Mt. Washington restaurant


Elena Baylis
Associate Professor
University of Pittsburgh
School of Law


Angela Banks
Assistant Professor of Law

William & Mary School of Law

David Barnard
Professor of Medicine
Adjunct Professor of Law
University of Pittsburgh

Paul Schiff Berman
Dean and
Foundation Professor of Law
Sandra Day O'Connor
College of Law
Arizona State University

Rebecca Bratspies
Associate Professor

CUNY School of Law


 Kamari Maxine Clarke
Associate Professor of Annthropology
Yale University and
Research Scientist
Yale Law School


Jason Cross, JD
PhD Candidate
Cultural Anthropology
Duke University

  • biography
  • publications
Laura Dickinson
Foundation Professor of Law,
Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law,
Arizona State University

Mark Goodale
Assistant Professor of
Conflict Analysis & Anthropology
Mason University

Rebecca Hardin
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology &
School of Natural
and Environment
University of Michigan

Robert Hayden
Russian & East European Studies Center
Professor of Anthropology
University of Pittsburgh

Peggy McGuinness
Associate Professor of Law
University of Missouri School of Law

Sally Engle Merry
Director, Program on Law and Society
Professor, Department of Anthropology
New York University

Hari Osofsky
Associate Professor
Washington & Lee University
School of Law

  • Biography
  • Publications

  • Teemu Ruskola
    Professor of Law
    Emory University

    Galit Sarfaty
    Research Fellow
    Program on the Legal Profession
    Harvard Law School

    Jenia Turner
    Assistant Professor of Law
    Southern Methodist University
    Dedman School of Law



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