We invite you to join ICON·S | The International Society of Public Law!

  • Why create a new international learned society – are there not enough already?
  • Why public law – do we not typically teach Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, or International Law (and now the much à la mode Global Law)?
  • Why does the word “comparative” not feature in the ICON·S title? Surely if we bring together constitutionalists from, say, Japan and Canada or administrative lawyers from Italy and Turkey their common language will be Comparative Law?

The initiative to create an International Society of Public Law emerged from the Editorial Board of I·CON – the International Journal of Constitutional Law. For several years now, I·CON has been, both by choice and pursuant to the cartographic reality of the field, much more than a journal of comparative constitutional law. I·CON has expanded its interests, its range of authors, its readers, its Editorial Board members and above all the issues it covers, to include not only articles in individual fields such as Administrative Law, Global Constitutional Law, Global Administrative Law and the like, but also – and increasingly so – scholarship that reflects both legal reality and academic perception; scholarship which, in dealing with the challenges of public life and governance, combines elements from all of the above fields with a good dose of political theory and social science.

True, in our classrooms we still teach “con. law”, “ad. law” and “int. law” separately – with some justification: they retain their reality and, heuristically, one has to start somewhere. But in litigation and jurisprudence, law-making and academic reflection, the boundaries between these disciplines and the borders between the national and the transnational – and even global – have become porous. Indeed, they have become so porous that at times one is actually dealing with an AltNeuland of public law.

We are certainly not announcing the death of Constitutional Law or Administrative Law and the comparative variants of both. But, at a minimum, a full explication and understanding of today’s “constitutional law” cannot take place in isolation from other branches of public law or in a context that is exclusively national. The same is true for these other branches too. Public law, as a field of knowledge that transcends these dichotomies, thus deserves our renewed intellectual attention. Our German colleagues, who have always had a more holistic approach to public law, may smile with some satisfaction.

In the same vein, the divide between law and political science has become porous too. Some of the finest insights on public law come from social scientists deeply cognizant of law. In addition, is there any legal scholarship that does not make at least some use of the theoretical and empirical understandings and methodologies external to the legal discipline, stricto sensu?

What then of “Comparative Law”? Are we announcing the death of the field? Perhaps not of the field, but of the word. The field is flourishing. It is possible to think of the field of Public Law in Chomskyan terms: there is a surface language, which differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but there is also a deeper structure that is common to the phenomenon of public law. It is difficult to find a public law scholar whose work is not “comparative” in some respects: informed by the theoretical discussion of X or Y in another jurisdiction; referring – often by way of contrast, sometimes by way of similarity – to a foreign leading case somewhere else as in “this is the Marbury v Madison of our legal system”; addressing universal themes of constitutional theory or design; or simply searching for a constitutional “best practice” overseas. Like Monsieur Jourdain who discovered to his astonishment that he was speaking prose, we in the field of public law should not be surprised to discover that in one way or another we are all comparativists. To limit our new Society to those scholars whose work is explicitly “comparative” would be hugely restrictive and would limit many valuable conversations that go well beyond the formally comparative.

Learned societies have often been founded to validate the emergence, autonomy, or breakaway of an intellectual endeavour. By contrast, international learned societies are often driven by the realization of intellectual cross-fertilization that can stem from disciplinary ecumenism. ICON·S is both! We believe that there is a compelling case for the establishment of an International Society of Public Law predicated on these sensibilities – a new breakaway field, the content of which respects traditional categories yet rejects an excessive division of intellectual labour that no longer mirrors reality.

The Society was officially launched at an Inaugural Conference that took place in Florence, Italy, on June 26-28, 2014. The European University Institute and New York University School of Law sponsored this important event. The Conference combined the best practices of the genre. There were plenary sessions with invited speakers, commentators and floor discussions on themes that define and reflect the scope of the new Society. We also issued a “Call for Panels and Papers”.

The successful format of the Inaugural Conference has been replicated in our Annual meetings, held in New York (2015), Berlin (2016), Copenhagen (2017), Hong Kong (2018), Santiago de Chile (2019), and online with ICON·S Mundo (2021). Such events both favoured the growth of the Society – which counts over 1.000 active members – and the establishment of regional and national chapters.

We are inviting all interested scholars and practitioners – from both law and the social sciences – to formally become Members of the Society by registering online here.

The International Society of Public Law is at its strongest when early-career scholars are central participants in the life of the Society. ICON·S is committed to giving early-career scholars the support and encouragement they need to become excellent scholars and teachers, with a view to enriching and enlivening the Society and public law more generally. To this end, ICON·S makes a commitment to developing early-career scholars an explicit criterion for approving a national or regional chapter, and we especially welcome early-career scholars to join the Society.

For purposes of ICON·S, an “early-career scholar” is understood as an aspiring career academic who self-identifies as such and/or whose terminal degree for entering the profession has not yet begun, is in the process of being completed, or was earned within the previous five years.

Further information on ICON·S and its mission can be found in the I·CON editorials ICON•S: State of the Society by Gráinne de Búrca and Ran Hirschl and The future of ICON•S: Looking toward 2021 and beyond by Lorenzo Casini and Rosalind Dixon.

Welcome to ICON·S!