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Abstracts of the last 4 Issues

Norm Contestation for Strategic Effect: Legal Narratives as Information Advantage

Telling stories is intrinsic to legal practice. Clients, lawyers, and courts
constantly tell stories about the facts and the law to make sense of the world
around them. Legal narration is thus a familiar feature at the domestic as well
as at the international level. In formal venues, legal storytelling is subject to a
range of procedural and substantive requirements. For example, not everyone
enjoys standing before a particular court. By contrast, in informal venues,
few if any such conditions apply. Press releases, official statements and social
media posts provide legal actors with considerable latitude and communicative
freedom to give their version of events. Much of this has emancipatory
potential, as it can lend a voice to those who lack representation in more
formal circumstances. However, it also enables actors to engage in legal
discourse, and to spin their stories, without the various checks and balances
that apply in formal settings. Legal narratives are also a source of conflict,
polemics and even misinformation.
The purpose of this article is to take a closer look at the role that legal
narratives play in the contestation of, and contestation through, international
norms. The article argues that legal narratives display certain distinct features
that set them apart from other types of storytelling. Specifically, they are
marked by normative constraints imposed by the formal nature of legal
reasoning and interpretation and by the logic of rhetoric and the policy
choices they are meant to serve. These two features – the formalism of the
law and the demands of rhetoric and instrumentalism – pull legal narratives
in different directions. Outside formal processes and venues, this tension
becomes acute. In the absence of epistemic scrutiny by experts and authorities,
legal narratives may stray far from the formalism of the law in pursuit
of competing goals. Where these goals gain the upper hand, attaining an
information advantage may become their primary purpose, a point the
article illustrates with reference to the justifications Russia offered for its
invasion of Ukraine in 2022. In such circumstances, legal narratives may
invoke the language and authority of the law not just unpersuasively, but