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Dr Matthew Nicholson

Associate Professor in International Law

Associate Professor in International Law in the Durham Law School
Associate Professor in International Law in the Durham CELLS (Centre for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences)
Fellow of the Global Policy Institute Journal


Matthew teaches and researches across the full range of Public International Law. Highlights of work to date include:

- Being awarded the International and Comparative Law Quarterly's 'Young Scholar Prize' (see for his 2015 article 'The Political Unconscious of the English Foreign Act of State and Non-Justiciability Doctrine(s)' – recognised as a leading piece on the extent to which national courts will adjudicate on disputes with a foreign state element (referenced in leading textbooks including Professor Malcolm Shaw QC’s International Law (eighth edition, CUP), and Eileen Denza’s chapter on the relationship between international law and national law in Malcolm D. Evans, International Law (fifth edition, OUP)).

- Publishing Re-Situating Utopia in the monograph series Brill Research Perspectives in International Legal Theory and Practice.

Across his research Matthew uses theoretical, inter-disciplinary inquiry to shed new light on aspects of legal practice or legal doctrine. Matthew has particular interests in:

- the theory and nature of international law - see, in ‘publications’ below, 2016’s ‘Walter Benjamin and the Re-Imageination of International Law’, 2017’s ‘Psychoanalyzing International Law(yers)’, and 2019’s Re-Situating Utopia. Across these publications and in ongoing work Matthew seeks to develop an original, inter-disciplinary theory of international legal practice as an exercise in (quasi-artistic, quasi-literary) representation, connecting international legal practice with critical and literary theory, philosophy and contemporary culture. 

- the relationship between international law and domestic law. In his award-winning 2015 ICLQ article Matthew used literary theory (specifically, Fredric Jameson's concept of the 'political unconscious') to explain the structure and history of much-debated legal doctrines with roots stretching back to the 17th century, the 'foreign act of state' or 'non-justiciability' doctrines. 

- the theory and practice of International Human Rights Law. In his 2016 article, ‘Majority Rule and Human Rights: Identity and Non-Identity in SAS v France’ (see 'publications' below), Matthew used the work of literary / legal theorist Joseph Slaughter, philosopher Theodor Adorno, legal theorists Franz Neumann and Otto Kirchheimer, and political scientist Peter Mair to critique a European Court of Human Rights judgment upholding the legality of a ban on the wearing of the burqa and niqab in France, and wider trends in the ECtHR's decision-making.  

Matthew is currently undertaking further research on the relationship between UK law and international law.

Matthew joined Durham Law School as Lecturer in International Law in September 2016. Before joining Durham he worked at the University of Southampton as Lecturer in Public International Law (2012-2016). Past experience includes work as a Teaching Fellow (LLB, Public International Law tutorials) at UCL (2010-11) and Research Assistant at the LSE (Grantham Research Institute / ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, 2009-10). 

He is a member of the Academic Review Board of the Cambridge International Law Journal and the Editorial Board of Brill Research Perspectives in International Legal Theory and Practice. He served as an External Examiner at SOAS (University of London) from 2017 to 2019, and currently serves (since January 2022) as an external examiner at Edinburgh University (UG international law modules). In January 2018 Matthew gave a Lauterpacht Centre Friday Lecture (Cambridge University - see 

Administrative Responsiblities

Matthew has served in a range of administrative / management roles. He is currently (2023/24) the Law School's Director of People and Culture and the Law School's Induction Co-Ordinator for new staff (a role he also held in 2022/23). From September 2019 to mid-June 2020 he was Chair of Durham Law School's LLB Board of Examiners. From January to September 2018 Matthew served as the Law School's 'ECR Co-Ordinator' (supporting and representing 'Early Career Researcher' colleagues in Law School management), and from June 2017 to October 2018 he served as the Law School's representative on the Council of the Society of Legal Scholars. In 2019/20 and 2020/21 Matthew was Co-Convenor of 'Law and Global Justice at Durham' (international law research cluster), a role he also filled in 2016/17 and 2017/18. 

Research Supervision / Facilitation

Matthew is committed to supporting research students. In September 2018, working with Dr. Kate Grady (SOAS), Matthew co-convened an international postgraduate colloquium in London on critical approaches to international law. The next colloquium was due to be held in Durham in April 2020 but was postponed and then cancelled due to COVID-19. 

Matthew has co-supervised PhD theses on critical approaches to international law and on international legal theory / international criminal law.

Matthew would very much like to hear from anyone interested in pursuing postgraduate research in international law, and would be particularly keen to supervise projects on the nature and theory of international law, the relationship between international law and domestic law, the theory / history of International Human Rights Law, and International Environmental Law. 

Research interests

  • International Law
  • International Legal Theory
  • Legal Theory (in particular, critical approaches)
  • International Environmental Law
  • Foreign Relations Law (the relationship between national and international law)
  • International Human Rights Law
  • International Law on the Use of Force
  • Law and Literature
  • Frankfurt School Critical Theory (in particular, the work of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno)


Book review

Chapter in book

Journal Article



Other (Digital/Visual Media)