Professor Sundhya Pahuja, a renowned expert in international law and award-winning author, is the winner of the 2014 Woodward Medal in Humanities and Social Sciences.
The Woodward Medals, presented each year by the University of Melbourne, recognise staff for research considered to have made the most significant contribution to the Humanities and Social Sciences during the previous five years.
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“The University of Melbourne has an amazing community of researchers in the humanities and social sciences who do outstanding work and I was genuinely surprised and deeply honoured to have received the award,” said Professor Pahuja, who is Director of the Law and Development Research Program at Melbourne Law School’s Institute for International Law and the Humanities.
Professor Pahuja is the author of Decolonising International Law: Development, Economic Growth and the Politics of Universality (Cambridge University Press, 2011). This original and influential book tackles one of the fundamental challenges of the 21st century: global inequality.
“Huge amounts of money have been spent on development since 1947. Over the same period, global inequality has increased dramatically and is continuing to rise. Our world now is one in which we have both the richest people, and the poorest people who have ever lived, and the planet is reaching the point of near exhaustion,” said Professor Pahuja.
“I wanted to consider whether the usual models of development institutionalised in international law were part of the problem rather than part of the solution, and to consider what has happened to attempts by the non-Western world to implement their own ideas of human flourishing in the face of resistance by the powerful.”
The book, which seeks to advance understanding of the place of international law and institutions in the global-political economy, has been highly acclaimed. In 2012 the work was awarded the world’s most prestigious book prize in international law, The American Society of International Law’s Certificate of Merit.
The book tracks the way in which the Third World has attempted to use international law and institutions since the end of WWII until today, and the results of these attempts. Its rethinking of international law, and the way that people engage with it, has been embraced by both critical and mainstream branches of international law.
Professor Pahuja believes that the worldwide interest that the book generated can be partly explained by its unusual approach.
“It considers the political and economic branches of international law together, rather than in silos. Secondly, it takes seriously the history of international law as a child of imperialism, and considers what the legacies of that history might be. Thirdly, it orients its lens toward the ‘darker nations,’ and their political engagements with international law and institutions.”
“Although they are unusual in international law, none of these things are unique of course—I am, in a sense, taking up an inheritance from many important and ground-breaking scholars from the field, especially those from the non-Western world.”
The radical approach and original ideas behind Decolonising International Law have given the book an audience beyond the academic world.
“I hope the book will be of use to those who are interested in thinking critically about the world we live in and the relationship between international law and political economy in a global context,” says Professor Pahuja.
“I hope too that the book makes a contribution to the global conversation about what it might mean to live ethically in highly inter-dependent times.”
Professor Pahuja has just returned from The Hague where she served as the 2014 Director of Studies in Public International Law at The Hague Academy of International Law.
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