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This chapter introduces basic elements of interdisciplinarity in public international law. While the majority of international law scholarship is still dominated by doctrinal research, adopting interdisciplinary perspectives on the theory, history, and practice of international law has become increasingly important for students of international law. Students are increasingly requested to not only familiarize themselves with interdisciplinary methods, but also apply those insights to international law. However, most programs lack a thorough introduction to the conceptual toolbox of interdisciplinary research. This chapter aims to remedy this gap and show students why, when, and how to engage in interdisciplinary research projects.

In this chapter, we will first show the potential of interdisciplinary perspectives and identify the respective questions which suit a interdisciplinary investigation (A.). In a second step, we give an overview of nine different types of interdisciplinary research in international law, introducing the dominant approaches, its main proponents and selected examples of interdisciplinary research (B.). In a third step, we introduce the various methodological tools available for interdisciplinary research, ranging from comparison to archival research as well as various options of quantitative as well as qualitative methods (C.). Ultimately, in the fourth step, we sketch some of the major pitfalls and challenges which students encounter in designing interdisciplinary research projects and show how to avoid them (D.)

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A. Basics for Interdisciplinarity in Public International LawEdit

I. What is Interdisciplinarity?Edit

The term "interdisciplinary" has become ubiquitous in legal research in the last decade It "can be seen everywhere, ranging from funding calls, research agendas, grant applications, conference themes and internet blogs to rhetorical manoeuvres."[2] Yet, the more the term gained in popularity, the fuzzier its meaning actually became.

To provide a broad categorization, interdisciplinarity denotes research projects which aim at synthesizing and harmonizing knowledge and methods between two or more disciplines into a coordinated and coherent whole.[3] It stands opposite of intradisciplinarity, which describes working exclusively in the boundaries of one single discipline. Interdisciplinarity thus requires that the general, theoretical as well as empirical assumptions between two or more disciplines are not in contradiction to each other. Moreover, it necessitates a strong, substantial and methodological understanding of those disciplines, which often takes significant amount of time and exposure to the relevant scholarly community and its writings. True interdisciplinarity, in this sense, is actually very hard to achieve. In contrast, most international legal scholarship takes the form of transdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research, the latter describing persons from different disciplines working together on a common project, each drawing on their own disciplinary knowledge and expertise. This is usually achieved by multidisciplinary teams of authors. Transdisciplinarity ultimately attempts to create a unitary common framework among two or more disciplines, to find common research questions, harmonize definitions, and identify explanations which stretch over the scope of just one disciplinary horizon.

Critics of interdisciplinary scholarship argue that the emergence of x-disciplinarity (inter-, intra-, trans- and multi-disciplinarity)[4] dilutes disciplinary boundaries, threatens the idea of a specialized profession and challenges central understandings such as legal autonomy.[5] While those concerns are valid, they are based on a fictions understanding of disciplinary silos in which one can clearly distinguish between one discipline and the other. Often, "[s]cholars describe their home discipline as e.g., a language, an epistemology, an academic practice or a culture; and interdisciplinarity as conceptual blending, metalanguage, boundary crossing, trading zone, knowledge or practice sharing, alternative methods and comparison of disciplinary tools."[4] In reality, disciplinary boundaries in law have always been fluent. Disciplines are not homogenous entities but consists of a variety of approaches and sub-disciplines. In particular, overlaps, either in substance, approach, or method, between international law and its neighboring disciplines from the social sciences and humanities are highly common. International law thus suits itself to interdisciplinary approaches as many research questions necessitate at least a contextual understanding of law.

Nevertheless, this should not underestimate the politics behind the turn to interdisciplinarity. In the words of Jan Klabbers, "interdisciplinarity is a politically charged activity in itself."[6] Interdisciplinary approaches might reproduce, disguise, or even strengthening existing power relations. Adopting an interdisciplinary research agenda and methodological toolbox further requires additional opportunity costs for marginalized scholars which exacerbates structural inequalities. Interdisciplinarity can thus rupture disciplinary gatekeeping and democratize the creation of new knowledge on fundamental questions of international law, but also create additional barriers and adopt a marketized logic in which research is guided by the use of fancy methodologies rather than research questions.[7]

II. Why do interdisciplinary research?Edit

Classical, doctrinal scholarship in international law usually adopts an internal view on law. The internal viewpoint takes the perspective of an insider to law, a law student, a professor, or practitioner which was trained and socialized into the legal community. They participate in the legal discourse, are preoccupied with legal arguments, and decision-oriented. In contrast, interdisciplinary scholarship promotes an external view of law. It takes the perspective from the outsider, who observes the processes, structures, and norms of international law in action. The external view thus takes into account both the relationship of law to the political, economic, or social context, as well as normative questions related to international law. To do so, it borrows insights and methodologies from neighboring disciplines.

Interdisciplinary research (just as all other forms of x-disciplinarity) thus allow us to ask questions which go beyond the internal logic of law. It does not limit itself to how the law is, but also why the law has been applied in a certain way, and how it should be in the future. Interdisciplinary approaches enable the identification of causalities or at least indicate possible explanations for certain situations or developments in international law. They can also illuminate underlying patterns and structures which have been overlooked, thus benefiting critical engagement with International law and providing support for improvement via interpretation or further development of the law.

III. How to do interdisciplinary research?Edit

Naturally, there are myriad options to analyze international law from interdisciplinary perspective and we will give you more insights in the following section. However, in general, interdisciplinary research requires a more structural approach to international legal research. One can generally distinguish between five steps:

First, it is of utmost importance to familiarize yourself with the respective approaches in depth before the start of the research project. This requires to understand the underlying epistemological considerations, fundamental concepts, and classic authors which have shaped the particular approach. Moreover, it is helpful to map the existing interdisciplinary engagement with international law. This is important not only to assess the state of the discipline and the topics that are being discussed, but also to identify the respective community which underpins the respective research project. One can thereby learn how to approach the same topic from different angles, how to transpose fundamental concepts to the study of international law, and to get socialized into the respective academic and writing style.

Secondly, in contrast to classical, doctrinal research, interdisciplinary research embraces a more transparent and open structure. In general, the scholar will first identify the research question(s) and possible hypotheses and counterhypotheses before analyzing the data. That does not not mean that the availability and access to source material cannot guide the respective research design, but it means that the data does not predetermine the research questions. This is different to doctrinal research, in which the identification of structures and the categorization of cases is a major research aim.

In a third step, it is important that the respective researcher openly and transparently justifies its research design. Interdisciplinary scholarship often includes an explicit methodology section. In this section, the author justifies, among others, why this particular approach is useful for the study of international law, how this influences the research question(s), which factors guide the identification of hypotheses, what were the criteria required for the selection of cases, which methodologies are going to be applied, how is the data being gathered, and what are the limitations of this particular method. The author can also identify how the project relates to existing research or conflicting approaches and clearly limit the research agenda.

Fourthly, the researcher gathers the necessary data. Again, a variety of options exist, ranging from comparative research designs, to archival work, as well as qualitative and quantitative approaches, which will be highlighted in section D. This step might take significant time and require additional resources such as travel, software etc. It is also heavily reliant on factors outside of the control of the respective researcher such as access to sources, for instance archives and interview partners.

In a fifth and final step, the data will be evaluated with respect to the aforementioned research question. This often includes giving a systematic overview and highlighting particularly interesting or unexpected factors. Hypothesis can be confirmed or refutes. Moreover, it is possible to consider some possible explanations for particular outcomes, reaffirm the limitations of the results or identify options to expand on the research in future projects.

B. Types of Interdisciplinary International Law ScholarshipEdit

I. International Law and HistoryEdit

Interdisciplinary study of international law and history is perhaps the most common form of interdisciplinarity in the study of international law. This is because it’s a form of study that ties deeply with what is done through doctrinal legal research. Because doctrinally legal research necessarily requires placing the principles espoused by legal instruments or relevant international court decisions in the context that they were made, in order to understand how they would apply in a new context, the study of international law lends itself towards historical enquiry. A prime example of this type of scholarship is the work of the late Professor James Crawford.[8]

The purpose of international law and history interdisciplinary enquiry is not to determine the “true” or “original” meaning of a piece of international law, in line with the originalism doctrine espoused in US Constitutional Law.[9] Rather the goal of historical enquiry and international law is to disrupt accepted narratives that established “legal truths” have always been in existence or always interpreted in a certain way. Recent examples of this approach can be seen in Cristian van Eijk’s counterhistory of the Outer Space Treaty,[10] the debates over the nature of jurisdiction granted under UNCLOS over piracy (whether it grants jurisdiction over terrorists, and whether the jurisdiction is grounded in the heinous nature of the crime),[11] and how the phrase “private ends” should be interpreted in the context of Article 101 of UNCLOS.[12]

II. International Law and SociologyEdit

The primary goals and purposes of legal sociology (as both a discipline and method) is “to provide insight into an understanding of the law through an empirical study of its practice.”[13] This particular field of interdisciplinary study of international law finds its origins in the work of Pierre Brourdieu, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber. In terms of empirical and theoretical studies into the practice of international law sociology is relatively small or niche when compared with International Law and International Relations (discussed in this section in conjunction with International Law and Political Science). This is because while sociology is a methods and theory based discipline (meaning that there is a battery of defined available methods and that new methods need to be sufficiently tested, justified, and articulated to be considered valid included, and that social theory is directly informed by empirical observation of the world), political science and international relations are subject matter based disciplines and thus have more scope as they adopt the different methodologies from other disciplines such as sociology.

Sociology study of international law can be done through quantitative, qualitative, or theoretical methods (although social theory enquiries into international law tend to sit more comfortably within legal theories than within sociology of international law). The key features of a good sociological enquiry are the identification of a clear research question, along with a hypothesis what conclusion will result from the data; and identification (usually tacit but sometimes overt) of the bias is that the author is bringing to the data gathering and analysis; and identification of what method is being used (noting that methods are simply tools and research is toolbox, and one should be wary of scholars who defined their research in terms of their methodology rather than in terms of their discipline); and there needs to be an articulation of why the method that is being chosen is the best method for addressing the research question at hand.[14]

III. International Law and Political ScienceEdit

Political science perspectives on international law primarily focus on the "development, operation, spread, and impact of international legal norms, agreements, and institutions."[15] They include theoretical and conceptual framework as well as political science methods, in particular qualitative and quantitative approaches. Its expands the study of international law to study the role of political organization, government, and structures upon which international law relies. While its beginnings can be traced back to the early 20th century[16], the most prominent political science approach to international law is international relations.

International relations theories usually highlight three facets of international law: power, international cooperation, and domestic politics.[15] Yet, the relevance and understanding of those factors depends on the different strands of international relations theory. In general, on can distinguish between at least four major strands: realism, institutionalism, liberalism, and constructivism.[17] Realism generally focuses on state power and state interest. Hence, international law has no clear relevance for realist IR scholars other than as an instrument in the hands of powerful states. States might comply with international law as long as it correlates with their domestic interests. Institutionalists, on the other hand, generally assume that it is in the rational interests of states to cooperate with other states. To do so most beneficially, states create long-lasting commitments via international regimes or institutions build on the structures of international law. International law thus helps to solve cooperation problems between states. Liberal theories of international law focus on a buttom-up dynamic. They analyze how the preferences of domestic or transnational actors create international law. Constructivist approaches generally focus on the normative and ideational structures such as identities, interests, and belief systems which influence the behavior of actors. They consider international law as a reflection of social purpose, not as much depending on material interests. International law and international politics are thus mutually constitutive, should the underlying political or social interests change, so will international law.

Since the end of World War II and until the 1980s, the relationship between international law and international relations has been fraught with tensions. While focusing on closely related issue areas, both disciplines have been developed along related but usually not intersecting tracks.[18] International relations scholars generally disregarded the relevance of international law for actually influencing the behavior of states and structuring, while international lawyers emphasized that legal autonomy requires detachment from political processes and rather focused on the interpretation of particular legal rules by judicial actor not on the implementation or compliance of specific rules. However, with the proliferation of international cooperation, the end of realist Cold War politics, and the rise of the US-backed liberal internationalist world order, a vocal community of IL-IR scholars emerged in the 1990s. They included, among others, Kenneth W. Abbott,[19] Robert O. Keohane,[20] and, most prominently, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who argued that there are "three ways that lawyers are using materials and insights from IR theory: to diagnose substantive problems and frame better legal solutions; to explain the structure or function of particular international legal rules or institutions; and to reconceptualize or reframe particular institutions or international law generally."[21] Since then, IL-IR literature has been flourishing. Prominent research strands include compliance,[22] legitimacy,[23] the emergence of norms[24] as well as their contestation,[25] and the proliferation of international courts.[26]

IV. International Law and LiteratureEdit

International Law and Literature as an interdisciplinary field of study follows the same paths and approaches as the Law and Literature movement more generally. The general goal of International Law and Literature interdisciplinary research is to use literature to advance understandings of international law in some way. While this is generally done through the pursuit of academic scholarship, it can also be done through the production of works of fiction. Classic examples of using works of fiction to discuss concepts of international law and justice are the work of China Miéville, and The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.

When engaging in academic approaches to International Law and Literature interdisciplinary work, authors tend to do one of three things with the literature aspect of this scholarship: 1) use works of fiction to explain and make accessible concepts of international law to non-experts;[27] 2) use works of literature as conceptual data to explore societal responses to international law;[28] or 3) use literature as a tool of jurisprudence in order to develop legal theory on particular issues.[29] In international law and literature, as with all law and literature interdisciplinary study, the tool of the literature is to help explore understand the concept of body of law in a new or more accessible way.

V. International Law and EconomicsEdit

The economic analysis of international law has emerged in the 2000s,[30] but builds on the more established domestic "Law and Economics" literature starting from the 1960 in US academia.[31] Its primary aim is to apply economic theory to problems of international law. The core assumption of the economic theory is the rational actor model. Economic analysis of international law thus assumes that states are self-interested and make decisions among alternatives to maximize their gains. They act according to the rational choice model in the design of international agreements and the creation of international law.[32] Methodologically, international law and economics scholarship often applies quantitative methods based on large datasets, as well as experiments.

The perspective of international law and economics sheds lights on two facets of international law: the importance of self-interest for state behavior and how this affects how states design and comply with international law.[33] They argue that states rely on international cooperation, hence, international law serves as an instrument to structure this cooperation for the benefit of the participating states. This means that states create international legal rules which serve their benefit. International agreements can thus be understood as a type of prisoner's dilemma, which poses the most benefits when all parties to the treaty cooperate. The economic approach to international law has thus been focused on the different modes of treaty making,[34] the design of specific clauses such as treaty exits,[35] international dispute settlement,[36] and the legitimacy of customary international law[37].[38] Moreover, economic analyses also investigated how particular rules of institutional design might foster compliance. In the absence of coercive enforcement mechanisms, rules stipulating compliance must change the cost-benefit ratio for the respective states. This can include requirements of reciprocity, retaliation, and reputation.[39] Moreover, economic analysis of international law has been applied to understand and improve the functioning of various regimes and sub-fields of international law, in particular trade law, human rights law, investment law, and environmental law.

VI. International Law and PsychologyEdit

International law and psychology has been developed in the 2010s and primarily adopts insights of behavioralism and cognitive psychology to international law. Thera are apparent overlaps between the emerging movement of behavioralist international law and the earlier economic analysis, not only amongst its main proponents but also its substantive questions and methods. Its main difference to economic analysis, however, concerns the rational choice paradigm. Psychological or behavioralist analyses do not assume perfect rationality, but rather want to empirical explore how the different actors in international law actually behave, hence, their aim is to identify "empirically grounded concepts of real, observed rationality."[40]

Behavioralism thus complements the economic approach by demonstrating that the action of individuals is often not determined by the maximum utility but influenced by several bias. This includes, for instance, availability bias when people think that the risks are greater when they can easily recall a particular incident, hindsight bias when "people tend to overestimate the initial probability of an event once they are aware that the event has occurred", or omission bias which explains why "people feel greater responsibility for outcomes that they have actively brought about than for outcomes that they cause by omission".[41] To understand how those biases influence the behavior of individuals, behavioralist often rely on experiments. Yet, the application of experimental insights upon the behavior of states in international law is more challenging than to powerful individual decision-makers such as heads of state, diplomats, or judges.[42] Behavioralist insights have been applied to a variety of international law issues, for instance, on treaty design[43], treaty interpretation,[44] international trade disputes,[40] bilateral investment treaties,[45] legal theory,[46] international humanitarian law[47] or how to incentivize compliance via rewards.[48]

VII. International Law and AnthropologyEdit

Anthropological analysis of international law have been primarily developed after the 1990s, however, earlier works on human rights in socio-cultural contexts can be identified. Anthropology and international law thus attempts to understand the social and cultural contexts of international law, often via ethnographical fieldwork in various local socio-cultural settings. Today, anthropological perspectives are in particular applied to account for the developments in three different international law spaces: the expansion of human rights discourse, the globalization of law, and international organizations.[49]

Anthropological perspectives aim at understanding how international law is produced and how it works by focusing on the individuals and communities which create and are affected by international law.[50] Anthropology thus highlights three overlooked facets of International law: First, it allows an anti-formalist approach to international law, i.e. it can be applied to legal norms notwithstanding if they take the form of hard or soft law, written text or oral order.[51] Secondly, it goes against the state centrism of international law by focusing how individuals and communities as well as non-state actors, corporations, organizations etc create and interact with international law also along transnational lines.[52] Thirdly, it situates the development and function of international law in specific local contexts, thus rejecting the universalist view and allowing for an integration with postcolonial or critical theory.[53] Anthropological perspectives have thus been applied to understand how human rights have spread globally while also being clearly affected by local dynamics,[54] how social movements engaged with struggles over international law,[55] interactions between indigenous law and international law,[56] the role of professionals such as lawyers and judges,[57] as well as case studies of different legal institutions and regimes, for instance in international criminal justice.[58]

VIII. International Law and LanguageEdit

International Law and Language primarily focusses on the linguistic analysis of international law and its discourses. Its main aim is to uncover the meaning of particular legal provisions by examining how it is being used or understood by different actors.[59] This includes also the study of different languages[60] as well as issues related to the translation of terms.[61] Insights of the linguistic analysis of international law are thus used to understand the drafting, interpretation, and application of legal norms in treaties and jurisprudence.

Linguistic analysis of international law relies on a variety of specialized methods, ranging from qualitative discourse analysis to the quantitative computer-based analysis of large text corpora.[62] Discourse analysis and text linguistics examines the legal text and its surrounding context. Analysis of syntax focus on how different phrases are combined and connected to form part of text structures. Semantics and pragmatics aim to understand the meaning of terms for instance via their original meaning or by differentiating it from closely related provisions. Studies of historical linguistics and etymology investigate how particular terms have been historically developed and interpreted. Lexicography relies on the understanding of dictionaries. Corpus linguistics and computational linguistics aim at handling large amounts of texts to understand the use of certain words or collocations. Sociolinguistics emphasize how social factors such as class, gender, or age influence our language, while forensic linguistic studies how language is used as evidence in legal processes. In international law, linguistic insights have been recently applied to three specific issues: First of all, the study of interpretation of international legal norms.[63] Secondly, the use of references in the decisions of international courts and tribunals[64] as well as self-citation practices in general.[65] Thirdly, another important strand of research critically reflects on the language(s) in which international law claims universality[66] and challenges the English-centrism of international law[67]

IX. International Law and Gender StudiesEdit

The overarching goal of Gender Studies is to enquire into the ways that (the sociocultural construction of) gender shapes all aspects of society.[68] As such, Gender Studies as a discipline centred on subject matter much in the same way as the Political Sciences and International Relations. It will often have crossover in terms of methods and approaches to the othered interdisciplinary approaches discussed in this chapter. It could also operate in a framework of legal theory rather than of empirical interdisciplinary enquiry. The common theme of International Law and Gender Studies interdisciplinary research is the use of Feminist and/or Queer Theory as the central lens of the research. For details on this see the chapter below on Feminist and Queer Theory in international law.

C. Methods of Interdisciplinary International Law ScholarshipsEdit

I. Comparative MethodEdit

Comparison has long been a staple in comparative legal research, also in international law. Comparison can be generally understood as a method which aims at contrasting two or more cases to identify parallels and differences. The results are usually focused on a specific phenomenon. Comparisons can be made among a variety of research objects, ranging from very focused case studies and micro-level processes to large-scale, macro-level analyses. However, interdisciplinary insights, e.g. from the social sciences, might further illuminate essential methodological potentials and limitations.

Interdisciplinary research puts significant emphasis on the design of the comparative study. After identifying the research question, the respective scholar generally justifies the comparability of the respective research units.[69] In particular when dealing with a small case study, they provide a thick description of the respective institutions or legal regimes, highlighting similarities and differences, and, if possible, how the researcher aims to account for potential divergences. In the social sciences, most comparisons adopt an inductive method, originally developed by John Stuart Mill in his 1843 book "A System of Logic", to illustrate their causal research hypothesis. This means that they account for an outcome (the dependent variable) as well as possible explanatory factors (the independent variable(s)). This is also called the "most different" or "most similar" cases design. In the former, the two or more cases are different in every relevant characteristic except for the outcome and the explanatory factor, in the latter everything between the two cases is similar except for the explanation and the outcome. Charles Tilly further distinguishes four types of comparative analysis, namely individualizing, universalizing, variation-finding, and encompassing.[70] Individualizing aims at comparing a small number of cases to identify the peculiarities of each case. Universalizing compares cases to demonstrate that every phenomenon follows essentially the same rules and thus to identify fundamental, generalizable theories. Variation-finding applies a medium- or large scale comparison to discover logical differences among instances and establish a standard of variation. Encompassing comparison "places different instances at various locations within the same system, on the way to explaining their characteristics as a function of their varying relationships to the system as a whole."[70]

II. Archival ResearchEdit

Archival research is generally associated with forms of historical enquiry; however, given the overlap of historical enquiry to other forms of interdisciplinary research, references to archival material will often crop up in various types of interdisciplinary research and even doctrinally research. Primarily the purpose of archival research is a search “for materials that might flesh out the stories and histories of modern rhetoric and composition we were presenting.”[71] Archives can be either physically located or online, but this primary purpose doesn’t change with the venue of the archives. Because the goal of archival work is defined primary sources that flesh out, or improve our understanding of historical narrative, the biggest question related to archival research is the decision about what to include (and perhaps more importantly what to exclude) from a piece of research.[72] Because this is an issue for all forms of empirical research this will be dealt with in more detail below; however, a general guide is that for something to be excluded there needs to be a defensible basis for that decision – is something is relevant to the topic, credible in terms of its origins, as within an acceptable tolerance of verifiability, it likely should be included in the work.

III. Qualitative Research MethodsEdit

While quantitative research is an empirical research method grounded in numerically measurable data, qualitative research focuses on more subjective interpretation of more subjective texts. These subjective texts could range from ethnographic observation, interviews (structured, semi-structured, or unstructured), free text answers in surveys, oral histories, historical transcripts (such as official meetings, or speeches), discourse analysis, or participant observations.[73] The valuing qualitative investigations as a form of empirical study is how it allows a researcher to understand why a phenomenon is occurring.[74] This can be contrasted with quantitative based investigations that are more focused on establishing what is occurring.

Which of these methods you might use in a qualitative study entirely depends on the questions you are asking and what you are trying to understand with your research. This will be addressed anon in the section on methods selection below; however, when dealing with qualitative methods one of the key important features is how the selected method is justified as the most appropriate for the research project. Beyond that is of crucial importance that the researcher identify the biases that they have brought to the study (so the reader can factor that into their reading of the analysis).[75] They should also identify how they have made their determinations about what data to include, and more importantly what data to exclude from the study. The value of qualitative studies as a supplement to doctrinal analysis is how it permits an understanding of why certain elements of doctrinal law have been developed, or how they play out when implemented on the ground.[76]

IV. Quantitative Research MethodsEdit

Quantitative research methods have been an essential element of the so-called empirical turn in international legal scholarship which combines legal methodology with tools and techniques from the social sciences.[77] Quantitative methods are based on data, which generally means large numbers of texts or codes in international law, for instance from legislation, treaties or jurisprudence.[78] The data is then analyzed to identify the conditions under which international law is formed and has effects. Hence, a major challenge of quantitative methods concerns the collection of data, either manually or through computational methods. For beginners, it is thus advisable to make use of existing databases, either from international courts, international organizations, or academic research projects.

Quantitative research methods can be generally differentiated in four types: First, descriptive research which aims at identifying patterns and structures in the data without necessarily having a hypothesis before data collection. Secondly, correlation-aimed research which wants to determine the extent of a relationship between two or more variables using statistical data. Thirdly, causality-focused research that attempts to establish cause-effect relationships among the variables in the data. Fourthly, experimental research investigates the cause-effect relationship in a study situation in which an effort is made to control for all other variables except one. Those four types are not mutually exclusive but can be combined, however, they come with specific requirements for data collection, for instance most quantitative studies require at least a medium-N or large-N sample size. Hence, in international law, quantitative methods have so far been applied to the jurisprudence of international courts,[79] as well as legal regimes which feature a large number of legal instruments such as international human rights[80] or investment law.[81]

D. Pitfalls and ChallengesEdit

I. Finding the Right Method for Your Research QuestionsEdit

Generally, within law faculties and legal circles, interdisciplinary research in law is referred to under the broad umbrella of “socio-legal” research.[82] One of the biggest hurdles faced by this broad and inclusive categorisation of all non-doctrinal research as “socio-legal” research is that it doesn’t provide clarity on what it is the interdisciplinary research is doing. So, while doctrinal law scholars are notoriously bad at articulating their methodology, often stating “I just read some stuff and then I analyse it”,[83] the ubiquity of the doctrinal method that is ingrained from the commencement of law school means that this inability to articulate methodology is unproblematic for them. The same cannot be said for the interdisciplinary research in international law, with accusations “of producing poorly theorised or methodologically weak work” hounding the socio-legal research.[84]

The question then becomes why is this the concern. The answer to this lies in the comments made once by a colleague about lawyers and nonlegal methods: “lawyers are like The Borg, they find something useful and assimilate it.”[85] They become very good at understanding how the method works, but don’t take the time to understand or articulate why that method is the most appropriate for the research question they are addressed. The range of methods that are available to the interdisciplinary scholar are extensive and can’t be covered here,[86] but the key to understanding what method is most appropriate for the question you are trying to address in your research is understanding the other discipline you are working with and the methods that are employed within that space. No method is inherently correct or incorrect for a particular research question – the key lies in how you justified both the theory and method you are bringing to your question and articulating why that method is being used and not a different one.[87] That said, one should be wary of scholarship that defines itself by the method rather than the research question.

II. Selection BiasEdit

Selection bias is when, deliberately or accidentally, you use a dataset that is incomplete. It renders your argument void, because the data you used was not reliable or meaningful. Data-driven research must include all data, even data that may undercut the primary thesis, because otherwise it is incomplete and therefore is without value. This often goes against many legal researchers' instincts, because legal training still largely focuses on advocacy. In advocacy, focusing on the evidence that support your argument is fully appropriate and necessary. However, in data-driven research, it is critical to show that you data includes and accounts for cases that diverge from the pattern you are trying to demonstrate.[88] This also reflects a wider shift needed when moving from a legal mindset to a data mindset: lawyers think in terms of absolute rules; data-driven research seeks to demonstrate tendencies.

III. Understanding External DataEdit

Particularly in interdisciplinary studies in international law a researcher will use or rely upon an external (usually publicly accessible) data source. Broadly speaking had data sources considered external if the data wasn’t gathered by the researchers themselves. When using external data sources it is important to establish the accuracy and integrity of the data, while also acknowledging (or highlighting) any weaknesses that makes this with the dataset. It is also important to justify why the use of an external dataset in this instance is the most appropriate approach to addressing the question at hand. An excellent example of how to manage these questions can be found in the second part of Chapter 2 of Paige’s study on UN Security Council decision making in relation to threat to the peace.[89]

IV. Personal Constraints (Time, Skills, Resources)Edit

When setting out to do an interdisciplinary, data driven study in international law one of the first things to consider at the planning stage of the project is what personal constraints will exist and how that will impact your ability to produce a complete study. The most significant factor when considering personal constraints is time. In a 2013 seminar on doing interdisciplinary research, renowned sociologist of law Dr Angela Melville noted that the best approach to assessing time constraints in empirical research was to generate a realistic timeline and then triple it.[90] Her justification for this was that no planning ever accounts for all the unexpected hurdles that crop up when doing empirical work. The other main constraint to consider is access: Will you have access to the dataset? Will you have access to sufficient interview participants to have a complete dataset? Will you have access to enough resources to continue data gathering until you have reached data saturation? Will you physically be able to get access to the relevant participants themselves? All of these questions need to be considered in the research design phase, and all of the complications that arise around these issues are why any empirical work will take three times longer than you expect.

V. Do’s and Don’ts of Publishing Interdisciplinary ScholarshipEdit

There are a significant number of dos and don’ts when it comes to doing data driven interdisciplinary research in international law. In summary, you should be open about the bias as you bring to the project and how they have impacted your analysis. You do this for the sake of transparency, and to allow the reader to read your analysis in light of your biases. You should not allow your biases to shape what data get included or excluded from your study (see the above section on selection bias). You should also not allow your biases to dictate how you read the data – they may always inform your analysis but they should not drive your analysis; good researchers are open to their hypothesis being proven wrong by the data. You should make clear why the method you are using is the most appropriate one to address the research question you have in front of you. You should not shape your research question to fit it in to a preferred methodology – research methodologies are simply tools in a research as toolbox and you should choose the right one for the project, not choose the project for the tool. Do acknowledge any weaknesses that exist within your dataset, and factor that into your analysis of the dataset. Don’t try and explain away or mitigate those weaknesses, rather you should highlight how they demonstrate and need for more data gathering and studying on an issue.

Overall interdisciplinary research in international law is a rewarding pursuit, but to be done well it requires a strong grounding in international law and the other discipline which you are using for your research.

Further ReadingsEdit


  • Summary I
  • Summary II

Table of ContentsEdit

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Part I - History, Theory, and Methods

Part II - General International Law

Part III - Specialized Fields


  1. The first footnote. Please adhere to OSCOLA when formating citations. Whenever possible, provide a link with the citation, ideally to an open-access source.
  2. Nikolas M. Rajkovic, "Interdisciplinarity", in: Jean d’Aspremont and Sahib Singh (eds), Concepts for International Law (2019) 490–504, 490
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  11. See for example: Mark Chadwick, Piracy and the Origins of Universal Jurisdiction: On Stranger Tides? (Brill /Nijhoff 2019); Tamsin Paige, ‘Piracy and Universal Jurisdiction’ (2013) 12 Macquarie Law Journal 131.
  12. See for example: Diana Chang, ‘Piracy Laws and the Effective Prosecution of Pirates’ (2010) 33 B. C. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 273, 281; Douglas Guilfoyle, ‘The Laws of War and the Fight Against Somali Piracy: Combatants or Criminals?’ (2010) 11 Melbourne Journal of International Law 141, 149; Gerry J Simpson, Law, War & Crime : War Crimes Trials and the Re-Invention of International Law (Polity 2007) 167.
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  46. Anne van Aaken, "Experimental Insights for International Legal Theory", 30 European Journal of International Law 4 (2019) 1237–1262
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  54. Sally Engle Merry, "Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle", 108 American Anthropologist 1 (2006) 38-51; Karen Engle, "From Skepticism to Embrace: Human Rights and the American Anthropological Association from 1947-1999", 23 Human Rights Quarterly 3 (2001) 536-559
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  66. Anthea Roberts, Is International Law International Law (OUP 2017)
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  70. a b Charles Tilly, Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons (Russell Sage Foundation, New York 1984)
  71. Alexis E Ramsey and others, ‘Introduction’ in Alexis E Ramsey (ed), Working in the archives: practical research methods for rhetoric and composition (Southern Illinois University Press 2010) 1
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  73. Carl F Auerbach and Louise B Silverstein, Qualitative Data: An Introduction to Coding and Analysis (New York University Press 2003) 3.
  74. Roger Cotterrell, Law, Culture and Society: Legal Ideas in the Mirror of Social Theory (Ashgate Pub Co 2006) 130–131; Moshe Hirsch, ‘The Sociology of International Economic Law: Sociological Analysis of the Regulation of Regional Agreements in the World Trading System’ (2008) 19 European Journal of International Law 277, 280.
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  83. Paige, ‘Let’s Talk About [Sociology], Baby … Let’s Talk About All the Good Things and the Bad Things That May Be’ (n 7).
  84. Watkins and Burton (n 18) 3.
  85. We are indebted to Douglas Guilfoyle for this wry framing of legal research methodologies.
  86. For a starting point see: Dawn Watkins and Mandy Burton (eds), Research Methods in Law (Second edition, Routledge 2018); Rossana Deplano and Nikolaos K Tsagourias (eds), Research Methods in International Law: A Handbook (Edward Elgar Publishing Limited 2021).
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  88. Ian Dobinson and Francis Johns, ‘Legal Research as Qualitative Research’ in Dawn Watkins and Mandy Burton (eds), Research methods in law(Second edition, Routledge 2018) 34.
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