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The Specter of Eurocentrism in International Legal History

The Specter of Eurocentrism in International Legal History

Author(s): Ntina Tzouvala

The honeymoon period of the “turn to history” in international law did not last long. On the surface everyone agreed that the past of the discipline remained under-examined and under-theorized. Additionally, few (if any) international legal scholars still believed in the most extreme versions of linear, progressivist narratives that imagined (international) law to be part and parcel of “the long march of mankind from the cave to the computer.” Nevertheless, important methodological differences persisted. These disagreements include the nature of historical time and, correspondingly, the relationship between the present and the past, the appropriate and permissible sources, the relationship between contingency and necessity, agency and structure, and aesthetic and theoretical choices between “thick description” and explanation. These deep theoretical divisions and the increasingly sour tone of the debate make the apparent consensus over the question of Eurocentrism worthy of closer examination. Simply put, scholars who agree on little else nonetheless acknowledge that the history of international law has been profoundly Eurocentric and that correcting this bias should be one of the main preoccupations of contemporary historical efforts. In fact, it is not uncommon that battles over other methodological questions are fought on the terrain of Eurocentrism, a point to which I will return shortly.

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Centre: CIPL

Research theme: International Law

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