© 2018 PILAGG

Thursday, 5 April: Legal forms of inter-alterity (A critical study in private international law) by Horatia Muir Watt

Legal Forms of Inter-Alterity (A Critical Study in Private International Law)

By Prof. Horatia Muir Watt


We can understand the discipline of private international law as a depository of ideas about the foreign, and metaphorically, the other, formulated as a series of highly elaborate legal concepts, theories, doctrines, definitions and tools. The discipline is supposed to be essentially methodological, meaning that it it is composed exclusively of modes of reasoning that operate at a meta-level (without touching the « substance » of legal issues). These are triggered whenever they detect an exogenous « fact », at which point they proceeed to distribute, allocate and partititon (whether jurisdictions, laws, disputes). The methodological choices involved presuppose various assumptions about legal orders or the societies they govern, their mutual relationships and the geo-political context in which they interact.

It is quite remarkable that despite the quasi-existential link between the discipline and intercultural encounters, ideological confrontations, or conflicts of ideals and values between communities, the discipline remains insulated or aloof from current debates about thinking and managing diversity across the (other) social sciences. This is no doubt because it was constructed historically around a recurring methodological quarrel about the respective virtues of two available formal modalities of distributing laws or allocatig facts; these continue to be debated on the massively technical register of internal critique. In other words, the focus of discussion is the coherence or the efficiency of either mode of reasoning, and very rarely their signification in terms of philosophy, politics, esthetics or epistemology as they translate into the legal field. The attending risk as famously denounced by realist critics is that of a fetichization of technique ; private international law’s tools exert a form of fascination that prevents looking beyond form to substance. Like black holes, the legal mechanics get so dense that they absorb the energy of the observor and blind to the deeper meaning and wider impact of the tlegal forms involved.

It is no doubt today’s need to grasp how law looks and operates beyond the horizon of the state that makes it particularly urgent to attune private international law’s peculiar methods to other, surrounding disciplines and understand its reactions to otherness in political, ethical or aesthetic terms. Nowhere is the study of this interdisciplinary ecology of law more important than as an accompaniment to contemporary efforts to devise and theorize a global law (or map its « intimations ») that would bypass the state’s institutional structure and revisit the moral foundations of authority. Indeed, the « global turn » in law is not limited, as it would sometimes seem, to markets but involves societies, cultures and ideologies. Moreover, it is not because globalization multiplies foreign encounters and smoothes over differences that ethnocentrism has disappeared – on the contrary, it is reproduced and displaced in a form of global-centrism. What follows, therefore, will focus on methods of private international law as expressions, in legal form, of attitudes towards otherness that bear political, ethical and aesthetic meaning in a world of accelerated encounters of a legal kind.

Thursday, April 5th, 2018
12.30 – 14.00

Sciences Po Law School
Meeting room (410T) – 4th floor
13, rue de l’Université – Paris 7ème