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Empire and Solidarity in International Legal Reform

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In the last two decades, aid organizations, led by the World Bank, have advanced legal and political reform as a necessary adjunct of international development assistance. This move has been challenged by critics who argue that institutional reform is inextricably tied to economic liberalization, that it is a form of cultural imperialism, and that it tends to displace domestic struggles for democratic self-determination, replacing them with a uniform model of atomized rights. This paper does not reject those concerns out of hand, but it does argue that they are often exaggerated and liable to undermine a valuable sense of international solidarity. It seeks to redirect the criticisms, confining and targeting them more carefully. It does so first by examining how the institutional reform agenda works in practice, drawing specifically on the experience of legal reform in Vietnam. From that example, it assesses the possibilities, limitations, and constraints of international institutional reform and provides recommendations on how reform might be pursued so as to reinforce, and not abandon, the values of transparency, consistency, popular participation and government responsiveness that animate, at its best, the institutional reform agenda.

Affiliations: 1: University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


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