Contingencies in International Legal Histories: Origins and Observers

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

    15 Downloads (Pure)


    This chapter reconstructs how contingency is situated in international legal histories. In particular, it focuses on how contingency relates to narratives of international law’s origin and progress. It explores, first, how traditional and recent international legal histories locate the origin of international law. Different authors—advancing different projects—situate international law within a range of different origins. In the end, the origin of international law is contingent. Moreover, it is possible for some authors, particularly those problematising international law’s Eurocentric origin, to conceptualise the link of contingency and origin not only as the contingency of origin but also in the form of a contingency as origin of international law, as international law originates from the confrontations, translations, encounters, and struggles of various actors. The chapter analyses, second, arguments about progress in international legal histories and argues that these arguments are tied to different conceptualisations of the observer, i.e. the international legal historian. Here, more traditional international legal histories often rely on an understanding of a non-contingent observer, who seeks to create an international legal order that is able to tame the contingencies of the international sphere. However, such narratives of international law’s linear progress have come under scrutiny recently as several interventions started to direct our attention to the multiple perspectives and multilinear trajectories in the making of the current international legal order or invite us to conceptualise the history of international law as a sequence of contingent disruptive events. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of what it could mean to open international legal histories for different conceptualisations of origin and to give up the idea of a non-contingent observer inscribed in progressive narratives.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationContingency in International Law
    Subtitle of host publicationOn the Possibility of Different Legal Histories
    EditorsIngo Venzke, Kevin Jon Heller
    Place of PublicationOxford
    PublisherOxford University Press
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Print)9780192898036
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


    • International Legal History
    • Hans Blumenberg
    • Niklas Luhmann
    • Eurocentrism
    • Reflexivity
    • Events
    • Contingency

    Cite this