This is an article about two things. First, the bifurcation of public international law (PIL) into two distinct forms: The material and the narrative. And second, the methodological fragmentation of international lawyers into discrete communities. After setting the substantive fragmentation of PIL as the context of analysis, I deploy Susan Marks’ concept of “false contingency” to distinguish material and narrative PIL. I briefly examine each, and their interactions, before turning to a specific manifestation of material PIL that I call the Global Legal Order (GLO).
I then sketch the radical indeterminacy of narrative PIL, its manifestations in the ontological indeterminacy of the commonly accepted sources of PIL, and its source in PIL’s lack of authority and institutionalization. This contrasts with the determinacy and authority of the GLO. Next, I turn to the “fragmentation” of international lawyers into distinct “communities of practice.” In fact, this process turns out to be one of agglomeration, international lawyers are constructed within communities of practice, which glom together to create the appearance of PIL.
Finally, I turn to how these communities function by pitting “performances of legality” in “vicarious litigation,” using the Chagos Islands case as an illustration. This is contrasted with the functioning of the operative legal system that is the GLO. I examine the constituent institutions of this system, and how they operate together to produce direct and indirect governance in under-developed states. In practice, this policy imposition immiserates states and antagonizes local populations. It necessitates oppressive governance which entails what narrative PIL determines to be “human rights abuses.”