Geoffrey Gordon
Sociology, international law & cosmopolitanism: Is, ought or ought not?
This paper interrogates aspects of the interdisciplinary engagement of law and
sociology today with respect to the possibility of cosmopolitan developments in
world relations. In conjunction with ‘globalization’ discourse, speculation about
universal regimes addressing expansive constituencies not defined by or limited to
nation states has raised possibilities for a cosmopolitan turn. Constitutional and
process-oriented theories, for instance, suggest the possibility of a new global public
or transnational publics under a comprehensive law. Theories of pluralist
international law have been expressly linked to a cosmopolitan program. At the
same time, Ulrich Beck has called for a cosmopolitan agenda in sociology. Gunther
Teubner and Christopher Thornhill draw distinct constitutional implications for
international law arising out of Niklas Luhmann’s sociological theory of world
society. That theory is predicated on fragmentation according to functional
complexity, but Teubner and Thornhill make a normative argument in favor of a
constructive grounds for a renewed central coordinating dimension in the system of
international law, raising at least tacitly a cosmopolitan possibility.
All of these sociologically-informed arguments posit a condition of world relations
that is, their methods ostensibly descriptive. But in each case, the appeal to the
world as it is underscores and lends urgency to a normative agenda. Moreover, the
appeal to what is has long been a staple of cosmopolitan normative projects in
international law. That tradition, however, fits within a historiography that sees in
modern international law the development of a hegemonic institution, as articulated
by Martti Koskenniemi, among others. Against the cosmopolitan possibility, critical
legal theory and new approaches to international law warn of the enduring
hegemonic potential embedded in the structures of international law, whereby
particular values are elevated to universalistic ends, and the statement of what
universally is disguises a particular agenda for the way things ought to be.
Complicating matters, the interdisciplinary exchange between international law and
sociology is a fraught one, subject to distortion and misappropriations. This paper
cannot resolve the tensions in that exchange, but nor does it seek to overthrow it.
Rather, the confrontation presents an epistemological challenge for international
law; perhaps a reason for modesty in incorporating sociological insights into law and
legal theory, but not reason for rejecting the possibility of cosmopolitan change.
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Geoffrey Gordon Sociology, international law & cosmopolitanism: Is