Dimitri Van Den Meerssche: The World Bank as an Autonomous Normative Order

The World Bank as an Autonomous Normative Order: Legal Processes of Constitutional Growth

Dimitri van den Meersche

This research maps out how legality—understood as an assemblage of legal actors, heuristics and vocabularies—has been implicated in the operational growth of the World Bank’s development program, and specifically its turn to ‘governance’ and the ‘rule of law’.
The focus is not on the Bank’s concrete financial projects, but rather on the epistemic and legal practices that translate this agenda of state reform into a purportedly objective and technical vernacular of economic efficiency and expertise. There are several components to this academic endeavor. First of all, a Bourdieusian light is shed on the force of law in the World Bank, highlighting both the specific legal consciousness and institutional embeddedness of the Office of the General Counsel. This reconstruction of law’s pedigree, substance and salience contrasts with both the functionalist and (meta)constitutionalist approaches to the law of IOs. Secondly, the thesis maps out how the turn to ‘governance’ and the ‘rule of law’ was marked by a translation of the Bank’s program of liberal state reform into the language of economic expertise—claiming both neutrality and objectivity under the cloak of modernization. Specific attention is hereby paid to the Foucauldian practices of measurement and diagnosis that underlie the Bank’s program of governance reform. Finally, the dissertation reflects on the nexus between the World Bank and the normativity of international law more broadly, and specifically on the translation of the latter into Bank-specific standards and safeguards. Drawing on a critical socio-legal methodology, the project aims to ameliorate our understanding of how law operates in this specific venue of global governance, and to map out the epistemic and normative rationalities implicated in its agenda of global development.

Dimitri Van Den Meerssche is a PhD researcher, originally from Bruges, at the European University Institute in Florence under the supervision of Nehal Bhuta. In his dissertation project, Dimitri provides a socio-legal account of how legality is produced and operates within the World Bank, specifically through the lens of the latter’s engagement with governance reform. He holds degrees from New York University (LLM in international legal studies) and Ghent University (Master of Laws, summa cum laude). Dimitri has published in the fields of law and development studies, constitutional theory and the law of international organizations.


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