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April 18, 2011


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Dan Joyner

Hi Kim,
I have to say that this sounds like a rather bizarre topic to try and bring alot of other disciplines in on. And it just screams to me that Curt Bradley is trying to continue in any way he can his own ill fated work on custom in international law. I think we've all had about enough of his and Mitu's thoughts on this subject. If you have read the responses their YLJ article has gotten, and particularly the set of papers published by the DJCIL in reponse to it, they have spectacularly failed to impress the serious international law academic community that their brave new idea on withdrawing from custom is a persuasive one. Curt simply strayed from his long established winning formula on this one - i.e. writing on US foreign relations law - and ventured imprudently into pure public international law source theory, in which he has little experience or expertise. He has paid the price through this negative reception - even being politely but firmly slammed on the pages of his own law school's international law journal. I personally think he should call it a day on this topic, and not try to salvage it through this strange new attempt at interdisciplinarity.

Curt Bradley

Thanks for your thoughts, Dan. I am sure they are heartfelt, but I hope you will forgive me in thinking that they are not particularly responsive to Kim’s posting. The school-wide project that she describes is not primarily focused on international law, and it certainly is not focused on the withdrawing from international custom issue — an issue that, as you indicate, has been heavily vetted recently. (Mitu Gulati and I are very pleased with the Duke symposium on this topic that you reference, and it sounds like you are pleased with it too, which is terrific.) If you have specific thoughts relating to the school-wide project, I would love to hear them. Please feel free to send these thoughts to me privately if you would be more comfortable doing so. I have received a number of offline suggestions from others relating to the project, and I really appreciate them.


Matt Lister

With large, multi-disciplinary events like this it takes a lot of effort to keep them focused enough to make them very interesting, as opposed to a real hodge-podge. Something I think might be useful as a model of what _not_ to do would be the Penn Humanities Forum. See here:

The Penn Humanities Forum is nominally based on a theme each year ("virtuality" this year) but heavy stress has to be put on "nominally". While the individual lectures are sometimes interesting, I think people would be hard pressed to say they came away with a better understanding of the supposed theme, even if they went to all of them- and most people won't, as it's just too diverse and disparate, and often loosely connected to theme, for most people to be interested in more than a few. So, I would recommend working hard to keep the participants "on topic", even working hard to keep the focus on "custom" tied into a range of ideas as much as possible. I think people will be more likely to learn something if that's done.

Kim Krawiec

Hi Matt - thanks for returning us to the original topic. This is a real concern. i'm sure that we've all been to symposia or conferences and wondered what was supposed to be the connection among all the papers. Want to avoid that, if possible. It will be a challenge to stay broad enough to capture interest, but not so broad that it looks like PHF. May pick your brain again further down the road.

Alfred Brophy

Is it a real concern that faculty may bring their diverse interests to a broad topic like custom and law? I'd think that might be the virtue of picking a broad topic. Seems to me that the Penn Humanities Forum is actually a nice way of engaging with a broad section of the community. I think a key problem is getting people to talk about their topics at a level that the rest of us can understand, not so much that you'll have a lot of people talking on their areas of expertise that touch the broad topic.

Kim Krawiec

Thanks, Al -- I think that one has to strike a balance, no? If the theme is no constraint at all, then it's hardly a year-long conversation that differs from what schools do every year. But too narrow, of course, and people won't engage.

Dan Joyner

I know my comment above has been artfuly, and with apparent magnanimity, dismissed by Curt as being irrelevant to the topic/question Kim proposed. But I did mean to respond to her question by identifying the likely motivation behind this project's genesis; a fact which might perhaps give some indication of the directions in which the work program might be led under its organizer's guidance.

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