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Access_open On Fragments and Geometry

The International Legal Order as Metaphor and How It Matters

Journal Erasmus Law Review, Issue 1 2013
Keywords international law, fragmentation, archaeology, Foucault, geometry
Authors Nikolas M. Rajkovic
AbstractAuthor's information

    This article engages the narrative of fragmentation in international law by asserting that legal academics and professionals have failed to probe more deeply into ‘fragmentation’ as a concept and, more specifically, as a spatial metaphor. The contention here is that however central fragmentation has been to analyses of contemporary international law, this notion has been conceptually assumed, ahistorically accepted and philosophically under-examined. The ‘fragment’ metaphor is tied historically to a cartographic rationality – and thus ‘reality’ – of all social space being reducible to a geometric object and, correspondingly, a planimetric map. The purpose of this article is to generate an appreciation among international lawyers that the problem of ‘fragmentation’ is more deeply rooted in epistemology and conceptual history. This requires an explanation of how the conflation of social space with planimetric reduction came to be constructed historically and used politically, and how that model informs representations of legal practices and perceptions of ‘international legal order’ as an inherently absolute and geometric. This implies the need to dig up and expose background assumptions that have been working to precondition a ‘fragmented’ characterization of worldly space. With the metaphor of ‘digging’ in mind, I draw upon Michel Foucault’s ‘archaeology of knowledge’ and, specifically, his assertion that epochal ideas are grounded by layers of ‘obscure knowledge’ that initially seem unrelated to a discourse. In the case of the fragmentation narrative, I argue obscure but key layers can be found in the Cartesian paradigm of space as a geometric object and the modern States’ imperative to assert (geographic) jurisdiction. To support this claim, I attempt to excavate the fragment metaphor by discussing key developments that led to the production and projection of geometric and planimetric reality since the 16th century.


Nikolas M. Rajkovic
Lecturer in International Law at the University of Kent Law School. Contact: n.rajkovic@kent.ac.uk. The research for this article was supported by a Jean Monnet Fellowship from the Global Governance Programme of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute. Further support was given for the presentation and discussion of earlier drafts by COST Action IS1003 “International Law between Constitutionalization and Fragmentation”, the Institute for Global Law and Policy of the Harvard Law School, the Kent Law School and the International Studies Association (San Francisco Annual Convention). I am indebted to the helpful feedback of Tanja Aalberts, Katja Freistein, Alexis Galan, Harry Gould, Outi Korhonen, Philipe Liste, Nicholas Onuf, Kerry Rittich, Harm Schepel, Anna Sobczak, Peter Szigeti, Wouter Werner and the two anonymous reviewers.
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