16 October 2017

Nico Krisch and the “Interface Law” project: between unity and pluralism


The “Interface Law” project, which began in June 2017, explores legal interactions between different spheres of authority in global economic governance and beyond. With a three-year funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), it is hosted by the Programme for the Study of International Governance (PSIG) and led by Nico Krisch, Professor of International Law and Co-Director of PSIG.

“Interface Law” starts from the observation that the growing density of interactions between spheres of authority in global governance puts pressure on traditional legal structures, thus challenging foundational concepts of legal theory such as sources, system and coherence. Building on this idea, the project seeks to analyse how interactions between formal and informal, public and private spheres of authority in global economic governance (focusing on international trade, corporate responsibility and financial regulation) are reflected in the theory and practice of law. Addressing both vertical and horizontal interface interactions, the research inquires into how different normative orders and layers of law relate to each other, including through the creation of linkages and/or mechanisms of distancing. One guiding intuition behind the project is that we are witnessing ever more complex forms of enmeshment between different bodies of norms, which pull us away from the traditional legal image of separate orders with distinct boundaries.

The SNSF-funded project forms part of a broader research group, Overlapping Spheres of Authority and Interface Conflicts in the Global Order, which is mostly Berlin-based and funded by the German Research Foundation. At the Graduate Institute, the project is hosted by PSIG and directed by Prof. Nico Krisch, with the assistance of Lucy Lu Reimers and Francesco Corradini, both PHD students in International Law.

In order to spark a broader conversation about related themes, the project convened a brainstorming session on 22 September 2017. Twenty-five participants – faculty members, postdocs and doctoral candidates – engaged in a four-hour discussion about the direction of the project and shared insights on relevant phenomena within their areas of expertise. In May 2018, the project will host a multidisciplinary workshop aimed at better understanding how normative orders interact within a pluralist, yet enmeshed postnational legal order. Breaking out of traditional conceptual frameworks, and straddling the boundaries of existing fields of knowledge, participants from around the world will contribute fresh historical, empirical and theoretical perspectives on interface law.