Ph.D.-course on the legitimacy of international law and international institutions

PluriCourts hosts a one week intensive interdisciplinary Ph.D.-course on the legitimacy of international law and international institutions, with a particular focus on international courts, in Oslo, Norway, May 11 to May 15 2020.

Course content

International law and international institutions play a large role both in international relations and in the domestic affairs of most countries. For example, we have seen a rise in international courts and tribunals, such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the WTO Appellate Body and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Much international law and institutions had an inter-state focus, but now govern much more than that. In European states, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Treaties of the European Union provide internationally binding rules that international tribunals supervise and use to adjudicate disputes, sometimes requiring States to protect individuals in ways that the governments oppose. Their increased influence raises questions about the legitimacy of international law and international institutions generally and international courts and other compliance mechanisms specifically. 

Until relatively recently, the study of legitimacy mainly focused on the state and its right to rule over its citizens. But accounts of state legitimacy are not necessarily pertinent for international institutions. Recent years have seen a significant turn towards the study of the legitimacy and justice of international institutions and international law. The course provides an advanced introduction to the topics and theories raised within this field of research.

Legitimacy is discussed across a number of different disciplines, and this course adopts a multidisciplinary approach, focusing primarily on law, philosophy and political science. These different disciplines might operate with different concepts of legitimacy and hence study different, though related, issues. Thus, philosophy mainly addresses normative legitimacy, which often relate to substantive notions of justice; political science focuses on how these institutions actually work in terms of effectiveness, agency costs, compliance, etc, as well as so-called sociological legitimacy, i.e. on whether an institution is perceived as legitimate; and legal scholarship includes a focus on the legality of institutions, which inter alia turn on whether they comport with notions of the rule of law. Furthermore, within each discipline, there will be competing concepts (and conceptions) of legitimacy. 

The course provides an overview of the main concepts and theories of the legitimacy of international institutions, and of how they relate to each other. The course also provides an overview of some of the theoretical and methodological challenges involved in assessing the legitimacy and justice of international law and international institutions.

The course will be based on active participation and dialogue between the teachers and the course participants.


The course teachers will include:

ECTS credits: 5 

Learning outcome

The students will acquire:

  • Knowledge of the differences between the various concepts of legitimacy used in different disciplines, and of the relationships between these concepts
  • Knowledge of different theories of legitimacy within law, philosophy and political science, and of their application to international institutions, and in particular to international courts
  • An understanding of the particular challenges arising when studying the legitimacy of international institutions
  • An understanding of the challenges and possibilities arising from the multidisciplinary study of legitimacy
  • An ability to critically assess and discuss the legitimacy of different international institutions (and how it affects their performance).
  • An ability to critically assess and discuss different theories of international legitimacy


The teaching will involve a combination of lectures, seminar discussions and student presentations. 

The lecture plan i available here.

The reading list is available here.

Obligatory activities

Read the assigned literature in advance. The reading list will be published at the latest on March 5th 2020. 

Participate actively in discussions during the course

Give a presentation during the course (the topic of the presentation will be specified for the participants in advance).


The students must submit essay of between 7000-9000 words. The essay must be anchored in the course literature, and discuss a topic related to the course content and learning outcome. Further specifications of the requirements to the essay will be provided to the participants.
The participants will first submit a draft of the essay, on which they will receive comments, based on which they will revise the essay and submit the final version.  


The course is open for PhD-students in law, philosophy, political science and other related disciplines. The course is also open for advanced Master’s level students.

Applicants must submit a CV and a short letter of motivation using this online form. The letter of motivation should specify why the applicant wants to take the course, the topic of the applicant’s thesis and how far advanced the applicant is in the work on the thesis, as well as the name of the applicant’s supervisor(s). 

The application deadline is 1 April. The applications will be processed on an ongoing basis.

There is no course fee, but participants must cover travel and accommodation costs themselves.

Travel grants for a selected number of participants are available upon request, required that the applicant does not receive any financial support from its host institution. 

The deadline for applying for travel grants is 1 February 2020. 

About PluriCourts

PluriCourts - Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order, is a Centre of Excellence at the Department of Public and International Law, The Faculty of Law, the University of Oslo.

Tags: Legitimacy, ITLOS, Trade, Criminal law, Human Rights
Published Nov. 29, 2019 2:28 PM - Last modified Mar. 23, 2020 2:22 PM