In recent years, the academic field of international institutional law has taken a clear ‘constitutional’ turn. In this normative endeavour, liberal ‘rule of law’ ideals are being reinvigorated, translated and projected onto international organizations. This article trades this well-trodden path for a socio-legal inquiry into how the ‘rule of law’ is produced, practiced and performed in the everyday political and operational life of one specific international organization (the World Bank) during one contentious historical episode. To grasp what it means for ‘law to rule’, I argue, we need to expand our archives to the daily praxis of legality: the actors that embody it; the consciousness that drives it; the politics that rely on it; and the fragile institutional balances that give it meaning. Grounded in this pragmatist perspective, I retrace the intervention of legal expertise during the Bank’s turn to state reform in the wake of the Cold War. Descending from principles to practices, from norms to acts, from abstract heights to situated performances, the article not only strives for an enhanced understanding of the ‘rule of law’ within the World Bank, but also aims at a critical methodological intervention in the field of international institutional law.
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