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KDEC 9670 - Theory and Epistemology of the Sources of International Law

Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Spring 2018-2019

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

The sources of international law constitute specific modes of legal reasoning found in any legal claim about international law and global governance. In fact, anyone en-gaging in international legal argumentation resort to the sources of international law when articulating a legal claim. Interestingly, in deploying the modes of legal reason-ing associated with the sources of international law, lawyers bespeak a wide variety of conceptual biases, cognitive prejudices, and professional partisanship while, con-sciously or unconsciously, serving very diverging agendas. This holds for judges, arbitrators, counsels, legal advisers ad academics. This course ambitions to unveil and discuss some of the main biases and agendas at work behind the sources of in-ternational law and the way they are used by a whole range of professionals. The course will make use of a series of conceptual and theoretical works as well as inter-national case law.


D'ASPREMONT, Jean (Professeur à l'Ecole de Droit de Sciences Po)

Course validation

Each week : Students will write a 1-page synopsis every week about the main questions addressed in the readings. The quality of the weekly synopsis as well as participation during the sessions will be taken into account in the final evaluation. At the end of the course: Students will write an essay (4000 words) on a topic of their choice. The topic must relate to one of the specific or cross-cutting questions discussed in the course and must be preliminarily approved by the lectur-er. This essay is the primary basis of evaluation for this course.


For each seminar, students will be expected to read approx. 1-2 pieces of schol-arship (links are provided below; some articles or chapters will be provided se-parately). Preparation will amount to approx. 2-3 hours of preparation per week and is absolutely essentual, also taking into account the submission of the 1-page synopsis every week. The course will be delivered through workshops where students are expected to actively participate and share their opinions.

Required reading

  • Session 1: The sources of international law and the liberal heritage : J. d'Aspremont, “Bindingness” in J. d'Aspremont and S. Singh (eds), Funda-mental Concepts for International Law: The Construction of a Discipline, Elgar, 2018, Forthcoming; Available at SSRN:
  • Session 2: The invention and reinvention of the modern sources of international law : Ole Spiermann, 'Who Attempts too Much Does Nothing Well': the 1920 Advi-sory Committee of Jurists and the Statute of the Permanent Court of Interna-tional Justice, British Yearbook of International Law, Volume 73, Issue 1, 1 January 2003, Pages 187–260,
  • C. Tams, Meta-Custom and the Court: A Study in Judicial Law-Making, Source: The Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals, Volume 14, Issue 1, pages 51 – 79 Publication Year : 2015, available here:
  • Text of the draft conclusions provisionally adopted by the Drafting Committee, 68th session of the International Law Commission (2016),

Additional required reading

  • Session 3: The nature of the sources of international law : Fernando Lusa Bordin, "Reflections of Customary International Law: The Au-thority of Codification Conventions and ILC Draft Articles in International Law”, 63 International and Comparative Law Quarterly (2014), pp 535-567
  • J. d'Aspremont, The Idea of 'Rules' in the Sources of International Law, 84 British Yearbook of International Law (2014) 103-130,
  • Session 4: Expansionism and the sources of international law : M. Koskenniemi, ‘The Pull of the Mainstream' (1990) 88 Michigan Law Review 1946 (available:
  • J. d'Aspremont, Expansionism and the Sources of International Human Rights Law (March 28, 2016). Available at SSRN:
  • J. d'Aspremont, The Two Cultures of International Criminal Law (February 2, 2017). Forthcoming, Heller, Mégret, Nouwen, Ohlin, Robinson (eds), Oxford Handbook of International Criminal Law (OUP, 2018); Available at SSRN:
  • Session 5: Interpretivism and the sources of international law : A. Bianchi, Textual Interpretation and (International) Law Reading: The Myth of (in) Determinacy and the Genealogy of Meaning (December 28, 2010). MAK-ING TRANSNATIONAL LAW WORK IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY - ES-SAYS IN HONOUR OF DETLEV VAGTS, pp. 34-56, P. Bekker, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Available at SSRN:
  • Hollis, Duncan B., Sources and Interpretation Theories: An Interdependent Rela-tionship (September 8, 2016). The Oxford Handbook on the Sources of Interna-tional Law (Jean d'Aspremont & Samantha Besson, eds., Oxford University Press, 2016 Forthcoming); Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-46. Available at SSRN:
  • Hollis, Duncan B., The Existential Function of Interpretation in International Law (September 24, 2013). Interpretation in International Law (Andrea Bianchi, Dan-iel Peat & Matthew Windsor, eds., Oxford University Press 2014); Temple Uni-versity Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-43. Available at SSRN: or
  • Session 6: Managerialism, epistemic conquest, and the sources of international law : D. Kennedy, "The Mystery of Global Governance," 34 Ohio Northern University Law Review, pp 827-860 (2008)
  • M. Koskenniemi, “The Politics of International Law — 20 years later”, available here:
  • Jean d'Aspremont, Softness in International Law: A Self-Serving Quest for New Legal Materials, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 19, pp. 1075-1093, 2008. Available at SSRN:
  • Session 7: Formalism and the sources of international law : J. d'Aspremont, Sources in Legal Formalist Theories: The Poor Vehicle of Legal Forms (on file with the author)
  • d'Aspremont, Jean, International Lawyers and Legal Forms: Transatlantic Denials (September 14, 2017). Forthcoming in Chiara Giorgetti & Guglielmo Verdirame (eds), Concepts on International Law in Europe and the United States (Cambridge University Press, 2018). Available at SSRN:
  • Session 8: Empiricism and the sources of international law : Gregory Shaffer Tom Ginsburg, The Empirical Turn in International Legal Schol-arship, 106 American Journal of International Law (2012), available at
  • d'Aspremont, Jean, If International Judges Say So, It Must Be True: Empiricism or Fetishism? (November 23, 2015). ESIL Reflections, November 2015, Vol 4, Issue 9. Available at SSRN:
  • Session 9: Imperialism and the sources of international law :Emmanuelle Jouannet, Universalism and Imperialism: The True-False Paradox of International Law?, EJIL (2007), Vol. 18 No. 3, 379−407,
  • Antony Anghie, Imperialism and International Legal Theory, in Anne Orford and Florian Hoffmann (eds) The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law (OUP, 2016) (on file with the author)
  • Session 10: Systematicity and the sources of international law : Hernández, G.I. (2018). Systematicity and the Sources of International Law: A Co-Constitutive Relationship? In The Oxford Handbook on the Sources of Internation-al Law. Besson, S. & d'Aspremont, J. Oxford University Press (on file with the au-thor)
  • d'Aspremont, Jean, The International Court of Justice and the Irony of System-Design (2016). Journal of International Dispute Settlement, 2016. Available at SSRN:
  • Session 11: The contestation of the sources of international law : Venzke, Ingo, The Role of International Courts as Interpreters and Developers of the Law: Working Out the Jurisgenerative Practice of Interpretation (June, 20 2011). Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review, Forth-coming. Available at SSRN: or
  • d'Aspremont, Jean, The Politics of Deformalization in International Law (October 12, 2011), Goettingen Journal of International Law, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 503-550, 2011, Available at SSRN:
  • Session 12: The re-invention of the sources of international law : Cohen, Harlan Grant, Finding International Law: Rethinking the Doctrine of Sources. Iowa Law Review, Vol. 93, 2007. Available at SSRN:
  • J. d'Aspremont, Towards a New Theory of Sources in International Law, in A. Or-ford and F. Hoffmman, Oxford Handbook on the Sources of International Law (on file with the author)