What 'If'? The Emerging Epistemic Community of International Criminal Justice

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Using international criminal law as a case study, this article aims to demonstrate how computer driven corpus linguistics combined with philosophy of law and sociology of science can help improve our understanding of legal knowledge and science. The article is built on a computer driven corpus linguistic study of all judgments from the ICTY and the ICTR from 1996-2017. To our surprise, this study revealed that the frequency of the use of ifs in all judgements had exhibited an almost perfectly steady annual decline – from 93 per 100,000 words on average in 1996 to 34 in 2017. As a linguistic phenomenon, this cuts against how we would expect language to behave. In the search for an explanation, we move from linguistics into the philosophical and sociological study of (legal) knowledge and science. In the most general terms, the explanation ties the disappearing of ifs to the emergence of international criminal law as a distinct specialized legal science, a separate sub-discipline constituted by a professionally shared corpus of knowledge – or of “a substantial body of jurisprudence on genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, as well as forms of individual and superior responsibility”, as the ICTR put it when closing down.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Legal Studies
Volume2019
Issue numberSpecial Issue
Pages (from-to)49-90
Number of pages42
ISSN1973-2937
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019

    Research areas

  • The Faculty of Law - international criminal law, corpus linguistics, epistemic communities, tacit knowledge, paradigm, doxa, Thomas Kuhn, Hans Kelsen, Joseph Raz, Ronald Dworkin, Pierre Bourdieu

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