Distinct Persons; Distinct Territories: Rethinking the Spaces of International Organizations

Gail Lythgoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Implicit spatial assumptions inform the law of international organisations, including the very concept of an international organization. In this paper, I argue that the reproduction of a physicalized and stato-centric notion of territory informs the idea that international organizations are functional entities without territories because ‘territory’ – as it has been long been conceptualised – has already been apportioned among states. While other disciplines underwent major epistemic change in their conceptualization of space, law retained reified assumptions of its spaces, especially so of territory. As a result, international lawyers have long assumed only states can be territorial actors. Yet with a reconceptualisation of territory, inspired by thinkers such as Lefebvre, we might instead think of the spaces of international organisations as their territories, constituted through their social practices exercising control. Moreover, this territory is distinct from the territories of member states and is not simply the aggregate of member states’ territories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-390
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Organizations Law Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2022


  • international organizations
  • territories
  • legal geography
  • legal personality
  • social constructivism


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