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Metaphor in International Law: Language, Imagination and Normative Inquiry

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image of Nordic Journal of International Law

This article investigates the role and value of metaphor in normative inquiry, offering both a general framework and applying it to the theory and practice of customary international law. Metaphor is defined as the practice of supposing relations between images from a perspective. The second part of the article unpacks each of these elements, i.e. supposition, relating, image-making and perspective-taking. It considers what role each of these elements plays in metaphorical cognition and why that role is valuable (epistemically and politically). The third part of the article turns to metaphors in customary international law, focusing on metaphors of the path, ripening and crystallisation. It is argued that the shift in metaphorical practice from that of the path to crystallisation is part of what both constitutes and enables a change from a state-practice heavy approach to an opinio-juris weighted one.

Affiliations: 1: Reader in Legal Theory, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK,


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