Political scientists — primarily in the discipline’s international relations subfield — have long studied international law. This article identifies five stages of political science research on international law, including the current interdisciplinary international law and international relations (IL/IR) stage, and it reviews three trends in political science research that constitute an emerging sixth stage of interdisciplinary scholarship: a law and world politics (L/WP) stage. First, moving beyond the “IL” in IL/IR scholarship, international relations scholars are increasingly studying domestic law and domestic courts — not only their foundational role in supporting international law and international courts but also their direct role in core areas of international relations, including international conflict and foreign policy. Second, moving beyond the “IR” in IL/IR scholarship, political scientists are adapting their research on international law to the broader world politics trend in political science by studying types of law — including extraterritoriality, conflict of laws, private international law, and the law of transnational commercial arbitration — that govern the transnational activity of private actors and can either support or hinder private global governance. Third, moving beyond the domestic- international divide, political scientists are increasingly rejecting “international law exceptionalism,” and beginning to take advantage of theoretical convergence across the domestic, comparative, and international politics subfields to develop a better general understanding law and politics.

This article’s main goal is to map out L/WP scholarship by examining these three trends. It also aims to facilitate further L/WP research by describing several areas of law, including foreign relations law, conflict of laws, transnational commercial arbitration, and international investment law, that may be unfamiliar to some political scientists, and explaining why they are relevant to international relations and to world politics more broadly. The article proceeds in five sections. The first two sections provide background by clarifying the definition of international law (Section 1) and briefly surveying the historical evolution of political science research on international law (Section 2). The last three sections review more recent scholarship to illustrate how L/WP research is moving beyond international law (Section 3), beyond international relations (Section 4), and beyond international law exceptionalism (Section 5).

Whytock, Christopher A., From International Law and International Relations to Law and World Politics (April 27, 2018). Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, 2018; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-29. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3170066

Also available from the Oxford Research Encyclopedia [subscription required].

Christopher A. Whytock

Associate Reporter, Conflict of Laws

Christopher Whytock is Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, and a faculty affiliate and member of the advisory board of the UCI Center in Law, Society and Culture. His research focuses on transnational litigation, conflict of laws, international law, and the role of domestic law and domestic courts in global governance.


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