Home » » Practice theory and change in international law: theorizing the development of legal meaning through the interpretive practices of international criminal courts
Abstract: The question of change has emerged as one of the main conceptual and empirical challenges for International Relations’ practice turn. In the context of international law, such a challenge is brought into particularly stark relief due to the significant development of legal meaning through more informal, interpretive avenues, including through the judgments of international courts. This paper develops a framework for theorizing how interpretive legal practices generate normative content change in international law. Specifically, it uses the example of the development of international criminal law through the decisions of international criminal courts to analyze how legal interpretation can lead to normative change in practice. Drawing on interviews conducted with judges and legal officers at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), I analyze how a community of legal practice centered around these courts was able to construct and alter legal meaning in international criminal law, and how such a potential for change was curbed by understandings of the interpretive process and the role of international courts dominant among international lawyers.