How Interpretation Makes International Law: On Semantic Change and Normative Twists

ISBN : 9780198712978

Ingo Venzke
344 ページ
160 x 235 mm

Challenging the classic narrative that sovereign states make the law that constrains them, this book argues that treaties and other sources of international law form only the starting point of legal authority. Interpretation can shift the meaning of texts and, in its own way, make law. In the practice of interpretation actors debate the meaning of the written and customary laws, and so contribute to the making of new law. In such cases it is the actor's semantic authority that is key - the capacity for their interpretation to be accepted and become established as new reference points for legal discourse. The book identifies the practice of interpretation as a significant space for international lawmaking, using the key examples of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Appellate Body of the WTO to show how international institutions are able to shape and develop their constituent instruments by adding layers of interpretation, and moving the terms of discourse. The book applies developments in linguistics to the practice of international legal interpretation, building on semantic pragmatism to overcome traditional explanations of lawmaking and to offer a fresh account of how the practice of interpretation makes international law. It discusses the normative implications that arise from viewing interpretation in this light, and the implications that the importance of semantic changes has for understanding the development of international law. The book tests the potential of international law and its doctrine to respond to semantic change, and ultimately ponders how semantic authority can be justified democratically in a normative pluriverse.


1. In the Beginning was the Deed
2. The Practice of Interpretation: A Theoretical Perspective
3. UNHCR and the Making of Refugee Law
4. Adjudication in the GATT/WTO: Making General Exceptions in Trade Law
5. Creative Interpretations: Normative Twists
6. Epilogue: In the End there is Eternity


Ingo Venzke is a Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Amsterdam Center for International Law, University of Amsterdam. He completed his doctorate in law at the University of Frankfurt while working at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg where he co-directed a research project on the exercise of public authority by international courts. Ingo was a Hauser Research Scholar at New York University and a Visiting Scholar at the Cegla Center for the Interdisciplinary Research of the Law, Tel Aviv University. He received his LL.M. from the University of London and his B.A. in International Relations from the University of Dresden.