Repetition and International Law

Wouter Werner

Wouter Werner (2022). Repetition and International Law, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-13: 9781316510780, 200 pages.

Wouter G. Werner's foundational study explores the role of repetition in international law, building on insights from philosophy, sociology of religion, theatre and film. It presents age-old doctrinal problems anew, assesses the use of moot courts in legal education and discovers the connections between international criminal law and documentary film making.

A former research fellow at the Centre and meanwhile a member of its Scientific Advisory Board, Wouter Werner, who is a professor of Public International Law at VU Amsterdam's Faculty of Law, is used to contribute unfamiliar perspectives by understatement and it is the seemingly boring things that rise his attention, resulting in interpretations and scrutiny, which in the end thrills readers and audience.

How, for example, can you stop reading if a book starts like that:

To begin a book, I argue again in chapter three, is to perform a paradoxical act. There is always a lead-up to the beginning, a history before the history of the start. (3)

Being interested in performative aspects of legal procedures Werner has extensively researched international courts, including their depiction in documentary film. Techniques from theatre and rituals are a depository, a parallel universe vis-à-vis many techniques, observable with institutional settings in international law. Moot court trainings come easily into mind.  No surprise - or is it? - that Beckett's Godot has aroused the author's curiosity and makes a good start for repetition research: 'Godot was always there'.

Werner's monograph provides deep and new insight into institutional mechanisms and self-conceptions. It leads also to a novel perspective on questions related to legitimation techniques. But, as Werner underlines, his argument does not deal with repetition itself in the first place. A thrilling paragraph in his introduction talks about 'Repetition and the ‘Something’':

This book is specifically focused on practices of repetition as they occur in international law. However, my intention is not to write on any possible practice of repetition in international law. The focus of this book is more specific. It examines contexts where repetition takes place in relation to something that is absent, unattainable or unspeakable. (8)

As he sees it, this can be conceived as a dialectical relation, namely between a practice and the something that is absent. Knowledge structures - and scientific knowledge - come into the picture here. Werner turns to Kierkegaard's understanding of recollection as a form of ‘repetition backward’.  'Under this conception of repetition, the present becomes real because it is turned into an instantiation of the past' (10, Werner refers to Stephen Crites). Strategies of legitimation - or de-legitimation - seem to find their point of entry here.

This monograph combines unusual perspectives from different disciplines and its method and results may well have value in areas beyond pure disciplinary international law. The author has successfully avoided repetition in the field of publishing with this horizon-expanding publication.

Publisher's website

Martin Wolf

* Quotes / page numbers refer to the book's introduction.