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Transnational Governance, International Law, and Global Capitalism

Please note that this course will not be running in the 2023 Summer School.

International economic law has entered the mainstream. Politicians debate the intricacies of free trade agreements, newspapers run stories about investor protection mechanisms, and popular movements use collective action to undermine intellectual property provisions.

Yet, despite breaking into the mainstream, popular knowledge on the subject remains sparse at best. This is due in large part to the representation of international economic law in both political rhetoric and popular media: much is said about the technical aspects of the field and emphasis placed on our collective preoccupation with economic growth. Economic considerations, however, cannot be separated from social functions that go beyond the production and exchange of goods. Developing a deeper understanding of the socio-legal character of international economic law will provide students with greater awareness of the political capacities and opportunities available to citizens.

Four topics are central to our examination of international economic law. As is to be expected, we will begin with the basics of global political economy: without an understanding of capitalism or the forces that propelled its transnationalisation, international economic law will remain a mystery. Next, we will consider foundations of international law—how the global framework is ‘regulated’—followed by foundations of international economic law—regulation of the global economic framework. Our third section is dedicated to intricacies of international economic law including trade and the WTO, investment, and labour while the final one will target normative aspects including the place of justice, fairness, and equality in the global economy.

l learned to work with people from different cultures and different ways of thinking. It opened my mind.

Manfredi Randazzo (Italy)

Key Facts

Level: Intermediate

Fees: Please see fees page

Teaching: 60 hours

Expected independent study: 90 hours

Optional assessment: Dependant on course

Typical credit: 3-4 credits (US) 7.5 ECTS points (EU)*
* Please check with your home institution

For more information on exams and credit, please see our Teaching and assessment page



Teaching Assistant

Raphael Quintero


The world is in an upheaval. Much of what we took for granted over the past generations is crumbling. States are at war, the planet is convulsing in cataclysmic ways, and populations relocate in search of safety from the chaos in our midst. These events have dramatically altered the nature and dimensions of transnational governance, international law, and global capitalism. Yet, despite their interplay, we continue to study these topics autonomously, ignoring the ramifications one has for the other.

In this course, we will counter the trade by uniting these three models to better understand the dynamics of the current world with a view to mapping what future ones might look like. We will study the rapid growth of global economic activity during the past century and the implications for geo-political relations. This model has brought about substantial economic benefits to some, colossal benefits to even fewer, and heaped misery on many more. Can transnational forms of governance help us achieve a more equitable world, or at least to minimise the gross inequalities we continue to observe? Of course, the lifestyle tied to global capitalism is intertwined with the ecological catastrophes we face daily. Is international law an effective instrument in the struggle for sustainable development? Is this possible or have we already passed the tipping point? Last, capitalism has lost its lustre with many societies clamouring for the type of interventions historically associated with socialist and communist leaning orders. Is there still space for global capitalism or has it already rung its death knell?

This course engages students in critical discussion about the nature and goals of transnational governance, about its associated regulatory framework (international law) and its economic model (global capitalism). Our aim is to better understand the costs, benefits, and prospects of the current order as we work our way to the next era of human evolution.

Course Aims

This course is designed to help students understand the invisibilizing and normalisation of unequal and asymmetrical economic and political relations in global capitalism (e.g. between the capitalist States and neo-colonial states, and between the economic interest of multinational corporations and States obligations to protect international human rights). In this context you will appreciate why developed States seek the expansion of global governance to regulate the behaviour of developing States, through hegemonic means such as opening their economies to foreign investment and international trade. To put it another way: why is there an FTA between the US and a group of smaller developing economies in Central America (CAFTA-DR) but not one between the US and the UK even though these nations have a ‘special relationship’?

As the course progresses, you will recognise the role that the primary actors in global governance—transnational corporations and capitalist states—play in the establishment of global institutions that alter social orders (political, economic and legal). Lawyers believe that because justice is portrayed as blind, the law is neutral in its drafting and application. The opposite is true. It conceals the political, economic, and social interests of the major global governance actors behind its neutral façade. Do the WTO's non-discrimination, trade liberalisation, and competitive advantage principles benefit least-developed countries? If so, why, and to what extent? Why, if foreign direct investment advances technological development, do international treaties expressly prohibit host countries from demanding technological transfers? Once you realise that the law is not neutral, you will wonder what role it plays in maintaining the status quo. This is the type of problems we will analyse in the context of the global economy, i.e., global capitalism.

The course does not aim to portray a world in which nothing works and everything is wrong. That the global economic system has alleviated poverty in several parts of the world cannot (and should not be denied). But is that the main goal of global capitalism? Or alleviating poverty is a by-product of wealth concentration? If so, what are the real alternatives to position social goals (human rights, the environment and sustainable development) at the forefront of the global socioeconomic agenda?

To accomplish these aims, students will actively engage in analysis and debate about:

• Global governance arrangements such as the UN (including the GA and SC), the ASEAN, the African Union, the European Union, G20, Mercosur, and others;

• Global trading arrangements and institutions (GATT, WTO, and free trade agreements);

• Global financing arrangements and institutions (IMF, World Bank, and the ICSID);

• The violence of global capitalism and its impact on human wellbeing, the environment, and the future; and

• Global policy making institutions and organisations, including the UNCTAD, UNCITRAL, NATO, Davos, and NGOs.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this unit students will:

1. Have a depth of understanding of the nature and dimensions of global governance regulatory, and economic activities and the international rules and institutions that relate to such activities;

2. Ask critical questions pertaining to the functioning of the global economy in terms of who are the winners and losers? Whose interests international economic norms protect? and why have least developing countries been unsuccessful in reforming global capitalism?

3. Have the capacity to independently investigate, analyse and synthesise complex information, problems, concepts and theories about globalisation and the ways of regulating such activities;

4. Conduct research in the empirical and legal bases of issues in globalisation and its institutions;

5. Use cognitive, technical and creative skills to generate and evaluate at an abstract level complex ideas and concepts relevant to globalisation and its institutions.

Upon completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Identify the key economic law institutions and agreements in IEL and the arguments supporting their development;
  • Explain the relationship between national regulation and IEL;
  • Evaluate how IEL impacts upon other policy areas;
  • Investigate, analyse and synthesise complex information, problems, concepts and theories about economic globalisation and global capitalism and the ways of regulating such activities;
  • Use cognitive, technical and creative skills to generate and evaluate at an abstract level complex ideas and concepts relevant to economic globalisation and its institutions.

Course Assessment

For this course, there will be 4 hours of teaching on most weekdays, comprised of lectures and small group seminars. The structure will be:

  • 3 hours of lectures
  • A 1 hour seminar in small groups

Students will also be given time each day for independent study. Towards the end of the third week, students will also be provided with time for revision.

Course Assessment

The module will be assessed via a 2-hour examination. It should be noted that the exam is not compulsory. Everyone who completes the course – whether or not they sit the exam - will receive a certificate of attendance. However, by taking the exam you will also receive a grade/mark for the course which can be helpful to you.

I encourage you to listen to my podcast on the Triangular Method of Study, available at:

There are no prerequisites for this module. This is deliberate. As is evident from the synopsis above, the study of international economic law is essential to your understanding of the operation of both global capitalism and the global economy. A prerequisite would simply place an additional barrier between you and vital information.

Nevertheless, this approach comes at a cost: limited—sometimes non-existent—knowledge about the operation of international law or capitalism. To ensure that you are not disadvantaged by our policy, I have included some readings and podcasts below to bring you up to speed with both. I thus encourage you to have a gander at the following:

Admittedly I wrote this blogpost over a year ago and my thinking has since evolved since but you should expect some of the themes to persist.

IEL exists to regulate global capitalism so without a solid grasp of the latter, you are likely to face great difficulty when engaging with the former. [His other popular works on capitalism – such as Bad Samaritans – are equally edifying.]

IEL makes little sense without some grounding in the basics of IL including theory, history, sources, and subjects.

Entry Requirements

There are no prerequisites for this course. This course is open to students studying any discipline at University level. We welcome individuals from all backgrounds, including students who are currently studying another subject but who want to broaden their knowledge in another discipline. Students should also meet our standard entry requirements and must be aged 18 or over by the time the Summer School commences and have a good understanding of the English language.

Please note changes to the syllabus and teaching team may be made over the coming months before exact set of topics are finalised.

Take a look at our other related courses:
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