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Theory Talks

Contact: Silvia Steininger, Tom Sparks


Theory Talks provides a forum for research fellows and visiting scholars of the Max Planck Institute to discuss questions relating to legal, political and moral theory.  The seminars normally take place once a month, and will include a short introductory talk (10-15 minutes) followed by a general discussion.  Each seminar will focus on a new publication, a classic text, or a current development.  All are welcome to participate in the discussions.

For previous sessions, please check the archive.


Fellows or visitors wishing to present in or to suggest a theme for a future edition of Theory Talks are warmly invited to contact .


23 February - 15.30-17.30

Raphael Oidtmann

The “Geographical Pivot of History” Revisited – On the Interplay of Geopolitics and International Law

Geopolitics has (re-)emerged as both an explanatory pattern and analytical framework in contemporary international relations over the last years: phenomena such as shrinking ice masses in the Arctic or processes like gradual desertification have hence revived deliberations on the role and effects of (geographical) space(s) within international politics more broadly.
The interplay between geopolitics and international law, however, has oftentimes been neglected in this context: how can power-based “classical” geopolitics thus be reconciled with (international) legal reasoning? What answers does international law hold for fundamental geopolitical categories, such as frontiers, space(s) or spheres of influence? And how could it be possible to harmonize these sometimes-contradictory intellectual planes?
The required readings for the session are supposed to fulfil two broad objectives: in a first step, the notion of geopolitics as originally conceptualized by authors such as Mackinder will be introduced (while acknowledging its distinct historical context) before the second reading expounds some points of contact between geopolitical and international legal reasoning, which will subsequently form the basis for the plenary discussion.

Required Reading:

  • Mackinder, Halford (1904): The Geographical Pivot of History, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 23(4), 421-444 (reprinted in The Geographical Journal, Vol. 170(4), 298-321).
  • Orakhelashvili, Alexander (2008): International Law and Geopolitics: One Object, Conflicting Legitimacies?, Netherland Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 39, 155-204 (in particular subsections VI and VII).

Further Reading:

  • Knutsen, Torbjorn L. (2014): Halford J. Mackinder, Geopolitics, and the Heartland Thesis, The International History Review, Vol. 36(5), 835-857.
  • Moore, Thomas (2013): Saving Friends or Saving Strangers? Critical Humanitarianism and the Geopolitics of International Law, Review of International Studies, Vol. 39(4), 925-947.
  • Müllerson, Rein (2016): Ideology, Geopolitics and International Law, Chinese Journal of International Law, Vol. 15(1), 47-73.

Popular Reading:

  • Kaplan, Robert D. (2017): Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World, Random House.
  • Marshall, Tim (2016): Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World, Scribner.

6 February 2020 - 15.30-17.30

Gunther Teubner

Social Theory and Legal Doctrine: Transversal Paradoxes

Required reading

  • "Law & Social Theory: Three Problems", 1 Asian Journal of Law and Society 2 (2014) 235-254

Optional reading

  • "Quod omnes tangit: Transnational Constitutions without Democracy?", 57 Der Staat 2 (2018) 171-194
  • "Regime-Collisions: The Vain Search for Legal Unity in the Fragmentation of Global Law", 25 Michigan Journal of International Law 4 (2004) 999-1046 (zusammen mit Andreas Fischer-Lescano)

Background reading

  • "Matrix Reloaded: Kritik der staatszentrischen Drittwirkung der Grundrechte am Beispiel des Publication Bias", 47 Kritische Justiz (2014) 150-168 (zusammen mit Isabell Hensel)