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Metadiscourse and the Making of International Law - Lianne JM Boer (VU Amsterdam)

  • Melbourne Law School, Room 920 185 Pelham Street Carlton, VIC, 3053 Australia (map)
Image by Brandi Redd

Image by Brandi Redd

“Scholarship about scholarship” (Kammerhofer) is on the rise. In the last five years publications emerged on, inter alia, the use of the work of the ‘most highly qualified publicists’ by the International Court of Justice (Helmersen); the role of scholars as a “cooling medium for the overheated discursive operations” going on in the world (Bernstorff) and “the influence of teachings of publicists on the development of international law” (Sivakumaran).

All this points in the direction of an increased interest in the ‘making’ of international law by legal scholars, though these pieces don’t necessarily question the distinction between the creation and application of law. They do suggest, however, that at the very least scholars’ ‘doings’ are contributing ‘something’ to the construction of international law.

In this seminar I seek to make this ‘doing something’ tangible. I do so by analysing metadiscourse in five scholarly pieces written on the US election hack in 2016. Basically, metadiscourse is the writer’s reflection on her own text in the text: phrases such as ‘in this article I will argue’ or ‘part II will set out the basic legal framework’. These are very obvious directions to a reader; yet there are many more ways in which we are guided through a text. Writers state how international law is “woefully inadequate” to deal with election hacks (Lam); how certain things are “self-evident” and others “even more self-evident” (Terry) and how the 2013 UN GGE report on cyber constituted a “baby step” but that the GGE’s work since has “become more substantial” (Barela).

Linguists refer to metadiscourse as “the author's linguistic and rhetorical manifestation in the text” (Hyland) or as “authorial intrusion” (Jiang and Hyland). This is how I want to look at legal scholarship: the assumption underlying this seminar is that by means of an analysis of metadiscourse it becomes possible to point out where exactly a writer is ‘doing something’ to construct international legal knowledge, steering the reader’s thoughts in a particular direction and laying claim to ‘what the law is’. In so doing my aim is to make the writers of international law visible in their own texts.

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Lianne JM Boer is Assistant Professor of Transnational Legal Studies at the Faculty of Law, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a Research Fellow at the Centre for the Politics of Transnational Law at the same institution. She is a 2019 Kathleen Fitzpatrick Visiting Fellow with the Laureate Program in International Law at Melbourne Law School.

Her PhD, which she was awarded in April 2017 (cum laude), dealt with the (socio)linguistics of knowledge construction in international legal scholarship. Currently, she is working on a project which focuses on international legal scholarship as a collection of stories, starring international law as the main character. She was previously a visiting PhD scholar at Lund University as well as at the University of Cambridge. She teaches public international law at both LLB and LLM level, as well as an LLM course titled The Politics of International Law. Her recent publications include an edited volume with Sofia Stolk, called Backstage Practices of Transnational Law (Routledge Research in International Law Series).