37 NYU Journal of International Law and Politics (2005)

Naming Global Administrative Law

Susan Marks

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There is something about the act of naming that seems to work a kind of magic. When in the 1960s and 70s people began to insist that the practice of abduction, secret detention, torture, and eventual murder which had developed in parts of Latin America be called “disappearance,” and that “disappearance” be understood in this context as having a transitive inflection, they did not only cause a new entry to be added to our dictionaries. They turned a series of private, at any rate not widely known, histories into a big public issue. They established the systemic significance of events which until that point could be imagined as disconnected or aberrant. They mobilized a constituency for investigation, action, and institutional change. Many of the same things might be said about the person who looked at a whole range of developments to do with the enhanced interconnectedness of people and processes at distant localities and, for better or worse, called this “globalization.” Or the person who alerted us to the importance of variability among living organisms and ecological complexes, and to the erosion of that variability, and termed the category “biodiversity”.