International Legal Orders and Their Histories

The serious historical study of forms of order beyond a single state has typically been separated from work on the current construction, adaptation or displacement of international legal orders. This project brings these enterprises together, taking advantage of prominent roles of NYU-associated scholars in work on history of international law and on contemporary global legal governance. It has helped build vibrant networks of scholars in the Americas, Asia, Europe, and to some extent Africa.

The project organizes regular “History and Theory of International Law Workshops” at NYU. More information about those workshops can be found at: In 2018-19 these well-attended workshops covered topics ranging from a Fregean account of conceptual innovation in intellectual history, and Hermann Heller’s 1920s theory of sovereignty, to historic imperial anti-corruption programs, and roles of individual leadership in pre- and intra-Cold War international organizations. Participants are from several disciplines in NYU and beyond.

The project’s work on relations of international political and economic orders and roles of law in these, both historically and in contemporary initiatives, led to the publication in 2019 by Oxford University Press of Benedict Kingsbury et al (eds), Megaregulation Contested. This 700-page volume pioneered the concept of “megaregulation” as a new intergovernmental economic ordering and form of governance, taking as a case study the important Trans Pacific Partnership Treaty (TPP, which has been in force since 2018, but without the US). It critically examines the problems and pathologies of megaregulation and explores future directions complex transnational governance may take. More information about the book is available on OUP’s website.

The next phase of the project includes the comparative study of law, power and regulation in two different kinds of ordering projects: ordering undertaken through large-scale international treaties, and ordering undertaken through transnational physical (or physical-digital) infrastructure programs. A comparison is made between the megaregional ordering pursued in TPP — initially driven by the US, then by Japan — and China’s massive non-treaty Belt & Road Initiative. A larger study has been initiated of historical and contemporary infrastructural projects as forms of regulatory ordering, and the implications for rights and power of different ways in which these projects are themselves regulated. 

Project Members

Principal Investigator: Benedict Kingsbury (NYU)