Favourite Readings 2022 – A Collection of First Academic Books

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As in previous years, EJIL review team, Gail gail.lythgoe {at} manchester.ac(.)uk" data-hovercard-owner-id="98">Lythgoe and Christian J. Tams, have asked colleagues to offer short reflections on their favourite books of the year. No strict rules apply — the posts are meant to introduce books that left an impression, irrespective of their genre. Today we have selections from Silvia Steininger and Helga Molbæk-Steensig. You can read all the posts in this series here

In many ways, engaging in academic writing, especially book-writing, is an exercise in emotional self-discipline or self-deception if you tend to lean to the more cynical side. You’ll have to believe that people still read scholarly books, and moreover that they’d be willing to read one you wrote. This may be especially true for emerging scholars whose work is not automatically added to anybody’s reading list. One the one hand, you might realise, usually in a moment of abject terror, that you have left the ranks of students and there is a real risk that someone, beyond the exhausted grading professor who would really rather be doing anything else, might actually read your work. On the other hand, when sweating over endless re-writings and revisions, you’ll need to convince yourself that there is a real chance that someone might actually read it; maybe even gaining something from the experience. If not knowledge, then perhaps a good laugh.

At times it can feel as if the act of writing legal academic scholarship requires a remarkably unhealthy combination of self-aggrandisement and crippling self-doubt. You’ll have to be overconfident enough to believe that there is a point in publishing, that someone will read it, and humble enough to make sure that if they do, you won’t be wasting their time. Deciding to write your first academic book requires these qualities in additional abundance as well as considerable resilience. In this post we have curated a non-exhaustive list of first academic books that do just that. Books that make an important contribution, which are enjoyable to read, and which on occasion even provide a good laugh.

First Books in 2022

There were two excellent books where we had access to the previous PhD dissertation and found particularly noteworthy in learning how to transform a thesis into a book. Both Nina Reiner’s Transnational Lawmaking Coalitions for Human Rights as well as Francesca Iurlaro’s The Invention of Custom. Natural Law and the Law of Nations, ca. 1550-1750 provide novel, interdisciplinary perspectives on classical themes of international law, namely customary international law and human rights. Both first time authors, they expertly managed to transform a thesis that was primarily aimed at a political science and history PhD committee, respectively, to a broader story that is accessible to the wider legal community. While diverging in scope and method, they both successfully explain the motives behind the creation of legal obligations.

Nina Reiner provides an innovative conceptualization of ‘transnational lawmaking coalitions’ to understand the iterative dynamics between state-appointed experts in UN human rights treaty bodies and the broader human rights community consisting of NGOs, academics, public intellectuals, unions etc. She argues that, in the absence of state oversight, those coalitions of human rights experts in- and outside of the respective committees actively engage in lawmaking by shaping the drafting of General Comments. As the human rights treaty bodies have taken centre stage in addressing existential global challenges such as climate change, Reiner’s empirical study is highly timely.

In her deep historical contextualization of the intellectual development of custom in the European law traditions, Francesca Iurlaro demonstrates how prominent jurists have used custom to manoeuvre a new political and cultural context, namely the time period after the fall of the medieval order. Her analysis traces the major thinkers of natural law thought from Vitoria and Suarez, to Gentili, Grotius, Pufendorf, Wolff, and Vattel. She thereby uncovers how those authors themselves have turned to history to invent custom and that custom, even in the jus gentium, remains a fiction. This enduring fiction is reflected in our contemporary discussion on whose custom is taken into account (and who remains outside the law of nations) in the identification of customary international law.

Of course, in 2022, many more insightful and enriching monographs have been published by early career scholars. In the following we would like to list three groups of books that might be of interest for those looking to discover new authors within the broader fields of international law, socio-legal studies, and interdisciplinary methodologies.

First, there are books that make a significant contribution in expanding our perspectives of international institutions, highlighting overlooked actors and processes. Both Dimitri van den Meersche’s The World Bank’s Lawyers. The Life of International Law as Institutional Practice and Tommaso Soave’s The Everyday Makers of International Law. From Great Halls to Back Rooms open the black box of international institutional law and apply sociological as well as anthropological methods to study the people, spaces, and processes that create international law.

Second, we have books that investigate the mechanisms behind international courts and tribunals which have faced significant criticism in recent years. This includes Zoe Philipp Williams’ The Political Economy of Investment Arbitration discussing the complex political and social issues behind investor-state dispute settlement, while Franziska Boehme’s State Behavior and the International Criminal Court. Between Cooperation and Resistance provides a political science-inspired perspective on patterns and causes of the relationship between African states and the ICC.

Third, there are books that speak to enduring challenges of our times and the multitude of crises we faced in 2022, most prominently the aggression against Ukraine and the climate catastrophe. For the former, Boyd van Dijk’s Preparing for War. The Making of the Geneva Conventions, and Miriam Bak McKenna’s Reckoning with Empire: Self-Determination in International Law offer us a thick historical contextualization of pressing issues while Bríd Ní Ghráinne’s Internally Displaced Persons and International Refugee Law investigates the protection of internally displaced people in and beyond refugee law. For the latter, Marie-Catherine Petersmann analyses how conflicts between environmental protection and human rights have been addressed in the European, Inter-American, and African human rights regime in When Environmental Protection and Human Rights Collide. The Politics of Conflict Management by Regional Courts.

First Books for a Multilingual International Law in 2022

Inherent dynamics of power and structural issues in our discipline – whether race, gender, nationality, country of origin, university prestige, or class – might affect academic publishing, even more so for first-time authors. To counter the English-centrism of international law, we asked fellow ECRs to recommend excellent first monographs of 2022 published in languages other than English. They have been very generous and recommended books in French, German, Spanish, and Turkish for you to discover and practise your language skills. Thank you!

Caroline Chaux, Les contraintes internationales sur le pouvoir constituant national (International Constraints on National Constituent Power) recommended by Başak Etkin:

“Constitution making is a central part of the international rule of law but is overlooked in mainstream French scholarship. Chaux’ book focuses on constitution making and amendments – all cases in which an external actor might be involved in the exercise of constituent power. The book builds on French constitutional scholarship and makes an interdisciplinary contribution to the international law discourse. This is showcased by a thorough study of almost 100 examples in which an international aid or favour depends on conditions regarding the constitutional structure or content, and would be relevant for those who work on interventionism and beyond.”

Gönenç Hacaloğlu, Küresel Adalet: Emperyalizm ve Uluslararası Yargılamalar (Global Justice, Imperialism, and International Trials) recommended by Hilâl Şarbak:

“The book analyses the international criminal trials from Nuremberg to the International Criminal Court from a critical perspective. In doing so, it draws on the scholarship of the Marxist representatives of the dependency school and world system analysis. It came out a few weeks ago, so it’s just in time!”

Betül Karagedik, Uluslararası Yatırım Hukukunda Yatırımcının İnsan Hakları Yükümlülüğü  (The Human Rights Obligations of Investors in International Law) recommended by Güneş Ünüvar:

“I think this is a great book, because it not only contributes to a field of research under-examined in the Turkish language but adds a novel and insightful angle to it, namely investors’ Human Rights obligations. Turkey is one of the most frequent actors in ISDS, yet policy-making is very opaque and superficial, and most of the academic debates are descriptive. Karagedik’s book really helps fill this gap.”

Anna-Julia Saiger, Nationale Gerichte im Klimaschutzvölkerrecht (National Courts in the International Climate Protection Law) recommended by Silvia Steininger:

“Saiger’s book provides a comparative and nuanced dogmatic overview of the various forms of climate litigations before national courts in the Global North and the Global South since the Paris Agreement. Yet, this book is not just a dogmatic exercise in the German tradition but also introduces the more critical debate on the (insufficient) role of law in the Anthropocene and earth systems theory to a German audience.”

Andrea Padilla Villarraga, Derecho sintiente. Los animales no humanos en el derecho latinoamericano (Sentient Law. Non-human Animals in Latin American Law) recommended by Juan Camilo Herrera:

“This is a provocative and heterodox book. Many will undoubtedly not agree with it and, in fact, I do not agree with it in several aspects. Nevertheless, it is a study that is part of the ‘impure’ readings of the law, that has been written and researched with accuracy to present the key elements of animal law, as part of the avant-garde that Latin American scholarship is offering to global law. Its seven chapters address both theoretical and practical aspects of what is already part of the political agenda of Latin America and perhaps the world.”

From reading to writing

As both of us are closing in on the last stretches of our PhD projects, this list of excellent first monographs is both deeply inspiring and massively intimidating. In compiling it, we have therefore aimed to keep in mind that these books are clearly more than what is expected from a PhD-thesis. They have not only been polished, but often rewritten fundamentally. The authors have spent many months, on occasion years, navigating book proposals, the (sometimes harsh) comments of anonymous reviewers, proofs, collecting endorsements, updating the material, and reviewing proofs again.

There have been countless debates over coffees in conference hallways and on social media on how to do this – finding a publisher, transforming your thesis into a book, and organising all the public relations around it. We are happy to report that in 2023 the ESIL Early Career Network is planning to host an event curating the best of this advice, creating a forum for those embarking on the journey of writing their first academic book. You can keep up with our plans for this event at @ESILEarlyCareer or at the ESIL website. You are also always welcome to get in touch with us at esil.ecr {at} gmail(.)com.

Happy reading.

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