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Name: Sarina Landefeld

PhD: Law

Thesis Title: A social constructivist analysis of the conceptual evolution of combatants and non-combatants in international humanitarian law


Thesis Description:

While the distinction between combatants and civilians is a fundamental principle in international humanitarian law, the meaning and scope of these two concepts have changed over time. International law is supposed to provide the tools and methods to interpret and apply the concepts in practice. A traditional doctrinal approach, however, arguably fails to explain how and why these concepts have changed over time and how the development of these concepts may be important for their meaning and scope today. My PhD project, therefore, uses an interdisciplinary approach drawing on social constructivism from the discipline of International Relations to analyse the evolution of the concepts of combatants and civilians since the latter half of the nineteenth century. It aims to contribute to a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of these legal concepts and their development by examining the processes which underlie law-making and which are significantly influenced by extra-legal factors and dynamics. In particular, it focuses on how individuals are constructed in the discourses during and surrounding successful and failed attempts of international law-making. It is hoped that the social constructivist approach may thus facilitate an understanding and explanation of uncertainties, weaknesses and lacunae in the law.


Supervisors and Institution(s):

Prof. Dino Kritsiotis, University of Nottingham

Prof. Neville Wylie, University of Stirling


Academic Qualifications

MA International Relations – Legal Studies (First Class), University of Aberdeen

LLM Public International Law (Distinction), University of Nottingham

Prizes and Awards

University of Nottingham:

  • European Union Masters Scholarship (2015/2016)
  • School of Law Treaty Centre Prize (2016) for achieving the highest mark in the examination for “International Law of Treaties” out of the 2015/16 postgraduate cohort

University of Aberdeen:

  • Most Successful Student Studying International Relations (2015)
  • Janet Macmurtrie Prize (2014) Award for the best undergraduate essay on a prescribed subject in international relations with particular emphasis on developing countries
  • Bronze STAR Award – Students Taking Active Roles (2011) Award for active citizenship and leadership in the University community
  • Lawyers without Borders Research Associate Award (2015) and Best Team Award (2015)


  • Sarina Landefeld, ‘The Evolution of Norms and Concepts in International Law: A Social Constructivist Approach’ in Rossana Deplano (ed), Pluralising International Legal Scholarship: The Promise and Perils of Non-Doctrinal Research Methods (Edward Elgar, forthcoming)

  • Andreas Zimmermann und Sarina Landefeld, “Europäische Menschenrechtskonvention und Staatsangehörigkeitsrecht der Konventionsstaaten”, Zeitschrift für Ausländerrecht und Ausländerpolitik 2014(3)


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • Presented a paper on ‘The Changing Conceptualisation of Civilians in International Humanitarian Law’ at the 3rd Postgraduate Conference in International Law and Human Rights, University of Liverpool (17-18/06/2019)
  • Presented on ‘Protecting the Civilian in War and Armed Conflicts‘ in a Research Relay at the Midlands4Cities Research Festival (23/05/2019)

  • Presented a paper on ‘The Construction of Individuals at the Brussels Conference of 1874’ at the Annual Doctoral Colloquium of the School of Law, University of Nottingham (06/03/2019)

  • Member of the organising committee for the Nottingham International Law and Security Centre Interdisciplinary Conference on the '70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention', University of Nottingham (9/11/2018)


  • Presented on ‘Combatant or Civilian? – The Construction of Individuals in International Humanitarian Law’ at the PhD Seminar Series, University of Nottingham School of Law (22/06/2018)
  • Attended the ‘Interdisciplinary Legal Studies Network Inaugural Conference – The Uses and Futures of Interdisciplinary Studies’, University of Kent (15/06/2018)
  • Presented a paper on ‘The Construction of Individuals in International Humanitarian Law’ at the Glasgow Law Postgraduate Conference, University of Glasgow (01/06/2018)
  • Member of the Research Festival Planning Group responsible for the research relays, 'M3C Research Festival 2018' (01/2018-05/2018)
  • Presented a research poster entitled ‘Combatant or Non-Combatant? The Individual in the Written Laws of War on Land (1864-1907)’ at the ‘Research Presentation Day’ at the School of Law, University of Nottingham (21/02/2018)
  • Presented a paper on ‘A Social Constructivist Approach to International Law’ at the ‘The Neglected Methodologies of International Law: Empirical, Socio-Legal and Comparative’ Workshop, University of Leicester (31/01/2018)


  • Attended the ‘Introduction to Conceptual History’ course, Helsinki Summer School (08-18/08/17)
  • Presented in a research relay at the ‘M3C Research Festival’, University of Leicester (25/05/17)
  • Rapporteur at the ‘Sixth Annual Junior Faculty Forum for International Law’ convened by Prof. Dino Kritsiotis, Prof. Anne Orford and Prof JHH Weiler, University of Nottingham (08-10/05/17)
  • Assistant at the ‘Art and International Law’ Workshop at the School of Law, University of Nottingham (31/03/17)
  • Presented at the ‘Methodological Lunch with Professor Hillary Charlesworth’ organized by the University of Nottingham School of Law and Nottingham Trent University Law School, University of Nottingham (29/03/17)
  • Presented at the ‘Research Presentation Day’ of the School of Law, University of Nottingham (01/03/17)
  • Student rapporteur for the Human Rights Law Centre’s International Humanitarian Law Unit’s Annual Lecture, University of Nottingham (29/11/16)

Prior to 2016

  • Student assistant at the Human Rights Law Centre, University of Nottingham (Oct 2015 – Jun 2016)
  • Research associate for Lawyers Without Borders University of Aberdeen Student Division (Oct 2014 – Jun 2015)
  • Intern at the Human Rights Centre, University of Potsdam (Oct – Dec 2013)
  • Intern at the Centre for International Studies, Dresden University of Technology (Jul 2011)


  • International Humanitarian Law (LLM) discussion classes (Autumn Semester 2017/18)
  • Public Law (UG) tutorials (Autumn Semester 2017/18)
  • Foundations of Public International Law (UG) tutorials (Autumn Semester 2018/19; Autumn Semester 2019/20)
  • LLM Skills Workshops (2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20)

Other Research Interests:

  • International Humanitarian Law

  • International Human Rights Law

  • International Criminal Law

  • The interplay between Public International Law and International Relations

  • Social Constructivism and norm dynamics




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