non-legality-in-international-lawShaun McVeigh

This book joins a growing literature that is concerned with the technical means by which relations of law are created and deployed. In part this literature is presented as ‘ethnographic’ in style but more often its strength comes from developing prudential and critical accounts of the roles and tactics of the offices and officials of law. As its title suggests, Fleur Johns’ book is concerned with the ways in which international lawyers conduct themselves in relation to the ‘non-legal’ spaces of the international domain. It is a book about the ways in which ‘non-law’ is created or, more precisely, the techniques by which events and problems are moved in and out of the vision of law. To show this, Fleur Johns follows the diverse ways in which targeted killings, imprisonments and torture memos, transitional finance, climate science, and disaster management are made amenable (or not) to international law. Methodologically Non-Legality in International Law book joins a range of work that shapes engagements of law through technical means and practice. It focuses on the rhetorical and technical repertoires through which international law claims jurisdiction and governs. Roughly these are understood in terms of pitching the jurisdiction of international law before, after, below, above, or against some person, thing, event, or activity (p.8). As Fleur Johns elaborates, these devices, and the tactics of their use, do not just relate to illegalities but to post-, extra-, pre-, supra-, and infra-legalities as well. The non-legal is not simply a lawless place, it is the work of legal projects, personnel and techniques in relation to non-legal sources.

There are two outstanding analyses in the book. The first is its elegant incorporation of the Freudian death-drive into the ways in which illegality is understood in International law (Chapter 2). Of course, Freud’s death drive has passed through law before, but Fleur Johns neatly ties it to the technologies of law in the ‘torture memos’ and the ambivalent forms of understanding legality found amongst the profession of international lawyers. Fleur John’s analysis of the infra-legalities of the management of disasters also points to the ways in which ‘non-legal’ objects create lawful relations (Chapter 6). Here it is the Red Cross manual The Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters: A Field Manual for First Responders. Fleur John follows the ways in which the manual was taken up in Haiti and became a source of infra-law and of (infra-)lawful conduct in the care of the dead. Finally, Non-Legality in International Law also presents an ethic for the office of international jurist. It is one that seeks ‘to add to the ideas, actions and ways of being that might be enacted through international legal work’ (p.220).  It does so in the expectation that lawyers take responsibility for the repertoires that they develop and use in the name of common humanity.