Research page

Funding Organisation: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Timeline: 2023-2027
Budget: 708'081 CHF


This research project proposes to explore the relationship between emotions and international law.

While the study of emotions has a rich history in many disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and more recently international relations, international law does not deal with emotions in any sustained manner. Law, including international law, is strongly based on rationalist assumptions. The prevailing idea is that law is based on reason and that emotions should be as much as possible excluded from the making, interpretation, and application of law. In this research project I argue that international lawyers and legal scholars must take account of the role of emotions in their study and work to ensure the continued relevance of the field in addressing real world issues. I draw on emerging research on emotions in domestic (mostly US) law, as well as on emotions research within international relations scholarship. Acknowledging and exploring the influence of emotions will enable the field of international law to better adapt to the complex global and societal issues it purports to address, including but not limited to: terrorism, migration, climate change, food safety, populism, and cyber warfare.

This research project is divided into three phases: The first phase will delineate the perspective on emotions and the methodological tools that inform the research. The second and main phase will consist of three case studies (fear and anxiety in environmental and food law; empathy, compassion, and dignity in the use of artificial intelligence in warfare; and stigma, shame, and guilt in combating infectious diseases in global health law) through which the relevance of emotions in international law will be studied. The third phase will draw on the case studies to argue for the value and practical implications of engaging with emotions in international law.

The central objective of this research project is to open up a new field of study on emotions and international law and thereby to help adapt the field of international law to addressing today’s complex global problems.


  • Project Investigator: Anne Saab, Associate Professor and co-Director, LL.M programme, International Law, Geneva Graduate Institute
  • Aliki Semertzi, Postdoctoral Researcher, International Law, Geneva Graduate Institute
  • Portia Karegeya, PhD Candidate, International Law and Research Assistant, Centre for International Environmental Studies, Geneva Graduate Institute
Emotions and International Law