Public interest(s) inside/within international and European institutions and their practices

Research strand coordinator: Dr Geoff Gordon

This research strand zooms in on how public interests shape, and are shaped in the institutional practices of international and European courts, such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Researchers have a keen eye for how emerging technologies intervene in these practices, and with what implications.



Research themes
Global infrastructures and information flows change the ways by which the world to which international law applies is perceived, pieced together and known in institutional contexts. That flow of information available to international institutions includes material, aesthetic and semiotic elements, from computing resources to styles of argument to specific institutional vocabularies. This distribution of material, aesthetic and semiotic elements across institutions of international law determines the way they perceive, project and respond to public interests, and likewise the ways in which they measure, analyse and act on the world for legal regulatory purposes internationally.

Related change is apparent in the ways in which international institutions communicate with publics to which they mean to apply. These transformations have not come out of nowhere. They are the latest turns in a larger program to adapt international law to a globalised world, one that has seemingly grown ever closer, its publics and pluralities – and its inequalities – ever more apparent, with competitions among their multiple interests ever more challenging. The practices that we focus on include professional routines and modes of communication; the transformations that we focus on are related to technological change.

This research strand examines the diverse practical, discursive and technical field of international institutions, taking forward the Strategic Research Agenda in four broad areas organised around public interests. This strand will conduct research on:

  1. How material, institutional practices, including the professional skills and techniques deployed in international organisations and courts, represent public interests.
  2. Methodologies, or methodological inquiry, to problematise the methods we use to measure and analyse the legal legibility of public interests, including what they are, and how they are known and measured.
  3. How new technologies enable, drive, and condition change in contemporary material, institutional practices.
  4. How conflicts among asserted public interests are managed, whether by reference to international courts and tribunals, or to the mechanisms like the Brussels I regime.

Across these four areas or guiding questions, we regularly focus on public interests in terms of the values that are represented, contested, constituted, and at stake under law in the institutional spaces that we examine. These several elements add up to a concern for the ways of materially knowing and communicating international law, what it is and does through its institutional operations, whom its institutions work for and with, and against or without.

Research in this strand examines:

  • material and discursive constructions of value as a function of law (and vice versa),
  • emerging technical systems and their disruptive potential for international institutions,
  • the communication of international legal regimes to diverse publics, and;
  • the management of conflicts among competing value regimes and representations of public interests.

We pursue these interests with fundamental research and publications in such A journals as the European Journal of International Law, Leiden Journal of International Law, or the London Review of International Law, and with impactful programs such as the summer programme ‘International public Interest advocacy’, aimed at disseminating knowledge among activists and stakeholders from civil society and international institutions, with outreach programs such as the Hague courts dialogue series, principally aimed at the community of interest organised around the courts and tribunals in The Hague, and with our interdisciplinary teaching at the highest levels of university education.