by Adriana Sinclair. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 210pp. Hardback $90.00/£55.00. ISBN: 9780521116725. Paper $29.99/£17.99. ISBN: 9780521133463. eBook. $24.00. ISBN: 9780511911156.

Reviewed by Benjamin O. Arah, Department of History & Government, Bowie State University. E-Mail: barah [at]


Adriana Sinclair is a specialist in the fields of globalization, international relations, and international political history at the University of East Anglia. In writing this important interdisciplinary text, she endeavors to critically examine and explicate the pivotal role that international law plays in informing and influencing contemporary international relations and global politics. One of her goals is to use this book to subtly expose and “challenge our unthinking assumptions about law.” She demonstrates the dynamic relationship between international relations theory and international law, would maintain that international law has become a “pervasive field,” and her emphasis is on legal methodology and jurisprudence. Sinclair’s point is clear and coherent, and she puts it succinctly that international law is inseparable from and central to international relations. The choice of “critical approach,” as reflected in the sub-title of the book, is self-explanatory and an indication that the author is evaluative and passionate in her bold effort to challenge the existing constructivist inadequate scholarship and theorization about international law with respect to its pervasive role in shaping contemporary international relations. Thus, the book is an open invitation to her three audiences (international relations theorists who work in the area of international law, all international relations theorists, and lawyers interested in international relations) to develop a better understanding of this intricate relationship and, by implication, is necessary in order to rectify and remedy, what she considered to be, the “serious errors” in conceptualization that lead to “poor theorization of international law and its place in international politics.” Sinclair would blame part of the “unthinking assumptions” and misunderstanding of the critical role of law in politics on the international relations’ constructivist school for the apparent flaws or errors in both its theoretical foundations and treatment of law.

In order to set the record straight and, in a way, rehabilitate or develop a more acceptable understanding of the intricate “cross-over” relationship between law and politics, Sinclair undertakes a critical and detailed examination of the contemporary constructivist positions for an exposition of is theoretical weakness and inadequacy. She succeeds remarkably in this effort, by confronting and engaging the celebrated ideas and works of Nicholas Onuf and Friedrick Kratochwil. Both Onuf and Kratochwil are considered as the pioneers of the international relations school of constructivism, as discussed in Chapter 1. Sinclair’s assumptions and [*422] perspectives, with respect to her argument about the increasing role of international law in international politics, make sense and is persuasive. This book is unique and has provided a new paradigm for looking at and understanding the relationship between international relations and international law, as both are inseparable from each other. A good working knowledge of international law is crucial for understanding international relations in the post-9/11 global politics. What she advances, with this paradigm, is that international relations theorists need to have well-ground understanding of international law in order to have a deep appreciation of the reciprocal relationship that exists between international law and international politics, but knowledge of international politics alone without a corresponding knowledge of international law will continue to remain inadequate and produce incoherent, inaccurate and untenable theorization and uncritical assumptions.

In dealing with the dynamic relationship between international law and international politics, Sinclair seems justified in resorting to the use of legal methodology (in Chapter 2) and critical jurisprudence (in Chapter 3). The need for her critical jurisprudence seems deliberate, because she does not want to limit herself to the realm of natural law theory and legal positivism like other international relations theorists. Working with critical jurisprudence allows her to raise several questions that help to guide the direction of the book, and it shows how law affects everything that is done in any society and, as such, “determines decisions.” This approach, which is not only appropriate and unique, allows her to operate with broad knowledge of international law and the kind of urgent familiarity based on legal reasoning that gives impetus to some critical questions that undergird the book, calling for deep intellectual reflection.

Sinclair’s book is divided into two essential parts between the theoretical (Chapters 1-3) and the empirical (Chapters 4-6). Chapter 1 is centered on “the theoretical foundations of constructivism and its treatment of law” (pp. 7-36), based on the school’s flawed assumptions of international law and inadequate theorization. But, as she notes, “two authors in particular stand out: Onuf and Kratochwil,” and both “were instrumental in the creation and development of constructivism as a school of thought” (p.7). Both Onuf and Kratochwil were responsible for the construction of the theoretical foundation used by the constructivist school within international relations, but it failed to take cognizance of the critical role of international law on global politics since September 11. However, for Sinclair to use the ideas and works (of Onuf and Kratochwil) as sources for her book is appropriate, because they are relevant and provide the fertile ground to optimally explore questions about law and international law in a way that “offers two of the best accounts of international law in both constructivism and international relations theory more broadly.” The empirical part (Chapters 4-6) deals with interesting case studies as follows: the landmark case of BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, KANSAS (1954); the 30-year rape problems and reform legislation in Britain used to dramatize the impact of law in a given society; and the problem with torture since 9/11 and [*423] the constructivist failure to fully understand how law operates or works in the contemporary context.

This book, by Adriana Sinclair, is well written, excellently organized, thought-provoking, and reflects originality of thought. Her critical approach serves the intended audience well, because she has an innovative way to theorize about international relations and politics by drawing upon and incorporating the crucial aspects of international law and delicately balancing the presuppositions of one with the other. She uses the case studies, in the second part of the book, to dramatize the shortcomings and inconsistencies of the contemporary constructivist international relations understanding of international law, and correctly insists that a careful understanding of the role of law (in this case, jurisprudence or legal methodology) is a sine qua non for having an accurate or adequate account of their dynamic and intricate inter-relationship.

© Copyright 2011 by the author, Benjamin O. Arah.