Call for Papers: Cognitive Sociology, Culture, and International Law



Event Date: 

04/28/17 to 04/29/17

Location name: 

University of Copenhagen, Denmark


iCourts, Centre of Excellence for International Courts

Call for Papers: Cognitive Sociology, Culture, and International Law

Call for Papers: Cognitive Sociology, Culture, and International Law

iCourts, Centre of Excellence for International Courts, University of Copenhagen
28-29 April 2017

Workshop Theme

The past few decades have seen growth in behavioural approaches in the social sciences. In this new behavioural revolution, cognitive psychology, behavioural economics, and sociologists of culture have all paid increasing attention to the role of cognition, focusing in the main on decision-making, both with regard to everyday routines and in the context of risk and uncertainty. This third workshop on the sociology of international law aims to break open the study of interactions between various cognitive processes and the formation, interpretation and implementation of international law.

Sociological work on culture and cognition is particularly promising here, with Bourdieu’s work in particular said to have “supercharged” a cognitive turn in sociology by emphasizing the formation and effects of habitus (Cerulo 2010). Yet sociological work on cognition extends beyond this. Research on cognition explains, for example, how people classify and make decisions based on their social contexts (Zerubavel 1997); how individuals draw on cultural schemas as a toolkit for action, both in settled and unsettled moments (Swidler 2001); how culture offers individuals skills, habits, and practices; the work of moral grammars, justifications, and reasoning styles such as analogies; how collective memory is built and sustained; and how beliefs and values motivate action. Some of this work in sociology also draws on related fields, prominently cognitive sociology, behavioural economics and neuroscience.

We believe that international law is a prime locale for bridging insights from this research on cognition with research on institutions. This would complement recent moves to draw together work in cognitive psychology and behavioural economics with the study of international relations (e.g., Hafner-Burton, Hughes and Victor 2013; Stein 2013). Our hope is to include papers that investigate both how individual cognition shapes institutions and how institutions shape cognition. We see these possibilities along several dimensions that we intend to explore at the workshop:

1. Decision-Making, Cognitive Bias, and Practices: Cognition is, primarily, an approach for studying decision-making and developing strategies for action. What can we learn from this field for international law? For instance, international adjudicators are frequently required to process and categorize volumes of information, and develop strategies for action in perceiving and processing the evidence. Similarly, certain international instruments aim to regulate some risky activities while bracketing other hazardous activities – raising questions over how risks are evaluated in international legal regulation and adjudication, a prime concern of research in cognitive psychology.

2. 'Optical communities', organizational identities and collective memories: Views of collective memory are central to the fast growing field of international criminal law. And beyond this, how would collective memories shape a collective identity of an international organization or alter members’ identities? The ‘optical communities’ (Zerubavel 1997) of which we are part affect cognitive processes, including how we attend to some features of reality, while leaving other aspects 'out of frame'. Similarly, how can we understand the cognitive elements that explain the social and professional trajectories of international legal actors: what underlies the international legal habitus? 'Is there an international legal habitus, and what forms does it take?

3. Communication, Routines, and Knowledge Formats: Underlying much of this is the question of how legal modes of thought and reasoning can be explored given what we know from research on decision-making, estimation, and cognitive biases. What role does analogical reasoning play in international law? What forms of justification are deployed in international legal settings? How would international organization norms qua language transform members’ communicative competence into administrative power? International organizations often engage “(metaphorical) framing” to facilitate meaning generation and schematization of knowledge. How do these legal forms of reasoning interact with cognitive biases and decision-making? And how do processes of anthropomorphization – whether of a state or an international organization – affect the work of international law by bestowing cognitive properties that presume intentionality and consciousness?

4. International law as a domain of expertise: International legal practices produce and disseminate expert knowledge, and many would agree that experts play significant parts in the drama of global governance, both by framing with world for ‘decision-makers’, and by interpreting and implementing their ‘decisions’. But more work is needed to map the modalities of their practice, and to reflect on alternative possibilities. Where does an acknowledgement of the centrality of expertise lead us in rethinking spaces and processes of global governance? What theoretical resources are available to lawyers to conceptualise the nature of ‘expertise’ and the roles that it plays in collective structures of governance? And what are the different forms and categories of ‘knowledge’ or ‘expertise’ which are particularly worth of scholarly attention?

Academics and experts in various stages of their careers are invited to submit abstract exploring various interactions between sociological cognitive processes and international law.


The workshop is hosted by iCourts, Centre of Excellence for International Courts, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen on 28-29 April 2017.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to Sungjoon Cho at <>, by 1 November 2016, and must include the author’s name, affiliation, and full contact information. Decisions regarding inclusion in the workshop program will be sent by 15 December, 2016. Those presenting will be expected to provide short discussion papers (3,000-4,000 words) by 15 March, 2017.

We regret that we are unable to cover participants' travel and accommodation expenses. Limited assistance might be available for junior scholars who are unable to secure funding from other sources.

Steering Committee:

Mikael Madsen, iCourts, University of Copenhagen
Sungjoon Cho, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law
Moshe Hirsch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Andrew Lang, London School of Economics 
Ron Levi, University of Toronto


Contact email: