Document Type



International Theory: A Journal of International Politics, Law and Philosophy





International legal structuralism arrived on the shores of international thought in the 1980s. The arrival was not well-received, perhaps in part, because it was not well-understood. This essay aims to reintroduce legal structuralism and hopefully pave the way for new, and more positive, receptions and understandings. This reintroduction is organized around two claims regarding the broader encounter between international lawyers and critical theory in the ‘80s. The first was a jurisprudential claim about how the critics sought to show how international law was nothing more than a continuation of international politics by other means. The second was a historical claim about how the critics wanted to show that international law had never been anything but politics, and that it always would be. In the view of this essay, both of these claims about international legal structuralism were wrong, and they’re still wrong today. For despite the tendency to think of it as a cover for postmodern nihilism or relentless deconstruction or both, legal structuralism offers international theorists an enriching and edifying method for rethinking the relation between law and politics on the one hand, and law and history on the other. It is in the effort to carry a brief for a reawakened legal structuralism that the essay brings focus to some of the early works of Martti Koskenniemi and David Kennedy, identifies the semiotic foundations of that work, and ultimately suggests the possibility of a second generation of international legal structuralism.


The author's preprint version is available here at