16 November 2022

BOOK: Dimitri VAN DEN MEERSSCHE, The World Bank's Lawyers: The Life of International Law as Institutional Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022), 336 pp., ISBN 9780192846495, £80


(image source: Oxford University Press)

Book description: 

The World Bank's Lawyers provides an original socio-legal account of the evolving institutional life of international law. Informed by oral archives, months of participant observation, interviews, legal memoranda, and documents obtained through freedom-of-information requests, it tells a previously untold story of the World Bank's legal department between 1983 and 2016. This is a story of people and the beliefs they have, the influence they seek, and the tools they employ. It is an account of the practices they cling to and how these practices gain traction, or how they fail to do so, in an international bureaucracy. Inspired by actor-network theory, relational sociologies of association, and performativity theory, this ethnographic exploration multiplies the matters of concern in our study of international law (and lawyering): the human and non-human, material and semantic, visible and evasive actants that tie together the fragile fabric of legality.

In tracing these threads, this book signals important changes in the conceptual repertoire and materiality of international legal practice, as liberal ideals were gradually displaced by managerial modes of evaluation. It reveals a world teeming with life—a space where professional postures and prototypes, aesthetic styles, and technical routines are woven together in law's shifting mode of existence. This history of international law as a contingent cultural technique enriches our understanding of the discipline's disenchantment and the displacement of its traditional tropes by unexpected and unruly actors. It thereby inspires new ways of critical thinking about international law's political pathways, promises, and pathologies, as its language is inscribed in ever-evolving rationalities of rule.

Table of contents: 

1:Introduction: The Life of International Law - On People, Practices, and Performances
Part I: Ibrahim Shihata - The Performative Power of Liberal Legalism
2:The 'Force of Law' Under Construction - Sensibility, Authority, Performativity
3:The 'Force of Law' Performed - The Institutional Politics of Legal Practice
Part II: Roberto Dañino - Cosmopolitanism and the Culture of the 'How to' Lawyer
4:Law's Metamorphosis - Rupture, Reconstruction, and Recollection
5:'Of course we are bound by those' - Dañino's Human Rights Agenda
Part III: Anne-Marie Leroy - The General Counsel as 'High-Level Administrator'
6:Law as Management - An Agenda of Cultural Change
7:'A new normative architecture' - Risk, Resilience and Deformalization
8:Conclusion: Assembling the Actants of International Law

About the author: 

Dimitri Van Den Meerssche is a Fellow at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences and Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary University of London. He holds a PhD degree from the EUI and master degrees from NYU School of Law and Ghent University (summa cum laude). His work draws on socio-legal methods to study the law of international organizations and, more recently, the ways in which big data and AI are reshaping global security governance. Dimitri has widely published and taught in different areas of international law. He is a founding committee member of the ESIL Interest Group on International Law and Technology. 

More information can be found here.  



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