The Evolution of International Humanitarian Law: An Anthropological Perspective

Tetyana Krupiy

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This article uses Douglas and Wildavsky’s cultural theory of risk from the field of anthropology, in order to provide a new explanation regarding what factors influenced the evolution of international humanitarian law in general, and the rules of targeting in particular. The starting point of the analysis is that the attitudes of states to risk, and the strategies states employ to manage risk influence their conduct on the international arena. Another facet of the discussion is an examination of whether the cultural theory of risk may be used to explain the motives of states and non-state actors for violating the rules of international humanitarian law. Building on the proposition that the attitudes of states to how risk should be managed may shape the content of the law, as well as whether the law is obeyed, the article additionally considers whether the disagreement between scholars, regarding how the legal rules are to be interpreted, may be explained by reference to attitudes individual scholars hold towards risk. The academic discussion regarding the legality of the employment of lethal autonomous robots on the battlefield is used as a case study to test this hypothesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-45
Number of pages21
JournalLegal Issues Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • international humanitarian law, rules of targeting, anthropology, risk theory, lethal autonomous robots


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