King’s College London Professor Explains How Globalization Changes Law

Over the last few decades, particularly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, international society has become intricately intertwined. Globalization has led nation-states to interact in new ways, and other influential groups, such as multinational corporations and activist groups, to operate on an international level. These new types of interactions need standards of law to operate under, and these standards are often referred to as transnational law.

Peer Zumbansen, a professor of transnational law at King’s College London and founding director of the Dickson Poon Transnational Law Institute, spoke at the Barat House Thursday in an event sponsored by the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy.

Transnational law is a relatively new introduction to the legal field and has not yet been strictly defined.

“Some people call it a field of research and some refer to it as a legal field as such, but I think we can all agree that it’s not a proper legal field,” Zumbansen said. “I explain transnational law as more of an approach to reflect on law as such and it’s all about contextualizing law.”

Zumbansen explained that regardless of the type of the law, all law has the same purpose, which is to “regulate, govern, to provide a defense as an armor or a shield, and a place everyone can call their own.”

Law and justice are not seen as the same thing now, Zumbansen explained. He said that justice is often seen as more “optimistic” than how law is practiced in reality.

Globalization and modernization has led to changes in the way the legal and political system are seen and how they operate. Zumbansen explained how a few changes in terminology signals bigger, broader changes. He explained that instead of talking about “forms” of government or law, now people reference “experiments.” The world has changed in ways that have led to new institutions not being set in stone but instead more dependent on their success.

The transition between “municipal” and “global” was another important shift in legal speech that Zumbansen pointed out. Compared to 50 years ago, many more institutions operate on a global scale. Today, a government wouldn’t be able to extricate itself from the international system without completely falling apart.

Transnational law has the same foundations as every other type of law, which Zumbansen identified as actors, norms, and processes. In basic domestic law, the actor is strictly the state, but in transnational law there are far more groups that can be considered actors, such as multinational organizations, human rights groups, and global organizations such as the United Nations. Norms have transitioned from being set strictly by the laws of a nation to also include treaties, accords, and codes, which do not have a strict definition of what they are or what they govern.

The processes through which laws are made have also expanded, he explained, from democracy and simple voting to include being instituted as problem fixes or a response to a paradigm shift, which is fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a discipline.

“Transnational law describes a distinct space of legal ordering itself,” Zumbansen said.

To end his presentation, Zumbansen gave an example of where the idea of transnational law would be important and needed: the recent 2015 FIFA controversy involving the exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar. He explained that transnational law is needed to identify who is at fault in that kind of situation, and by what laws or standards that group can be punished.

“There’s a difference between domestic, municipal law on the group but that law now we cannot understand anymore if we don’t see it in its connections between international law and to soft law,” Zumbansen said.

Featured Image by Jack Catonia / Heights Staff