Governance by Academics: The Invention of Memoranda of Understanding
This contribution aims to sketch how a single article published in a legal journal came to influence generations of international lawyers worldwide, despite not being a very good article, and despite its main proposition not being supported by much empirical evidence. The article concerns is James Fawcett’s “The Legal Character of International Agreements”, published in 1953 in the British Yearbook of International Law, which more or less single-handedly invented the (binding, but ostensibly not legally binding) Memorandum of Understanding. This contributions traces Fawcett’s forerunners, dissects his argumentation, and scrutinizes its reception in both the academy and the practice of Foreign Office lawyers. It does so in order to illustrate how power can be shaped through epistemic means and can be exercised even by academics, in this case by means of a journal article.