Legal realism and its discontents

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13 Scopus citations


This article provides a brief overview of legal realism and sketches out its implications for international law, using international environmental law as an example. Although the 'new' legal realism is not especially new, its anti-formalist, pragmatic perspective still offers important insights about the international legal process, and serves as a useful counterpoint to a new variety of formalism, which continues to resist the social scientific study of international law. Among its distinctive elements, legal realism views international law instrumentally, is empirical in orientation, and focuses on the processes by which international law is developed, implemented, and enforced, rather than limiting itself to international law doctrine. The fear of critics is that, by de-emphasizing the internal point of view and the concept of legal validity, legal realism deprives international law of the very features that make it a distinctive enterprise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-281
Number of pages15
JournalLeiden Journal of International Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 24 2015


  • history
  • international environmental law
  • jurisprudence
  • legal realism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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