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Karen J. Alter

Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations

B.S.: Cornell University, 1988; Ph.D.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1996
Curriculum Vitae


Research Interest(s): Global Capitalism and Law; Multilateralism; International Law; International Courts; Law and Politics

Program Area(s): International Relations; Comparative Politics

Regional Specialization(s): Latin America; Europe; Africa

Subfield Specialties: Comparative Historical Analysis; International Organizations and International Law; Law and Politics

Joint Appointment

Legal Studies

Program of African Studies

Northwestern School of Law (by courtesy)


Karen J. Alter is the Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations and Professor of Political Science and Law at Northwestern University, a permanent visiting professor at the iCourts Center for Excellence, University of Copenhagen Faculty of Law, and the co-director Research Group on Global Capitalism and Law at Northwestern University. Alter’s research focuses on the construction of global economic rules regulating trade and money, and on the determinants of politically sustainable capitalism. Past and ongoing research concerns the politics of international regime complexity and global and regional judicialization of international relations.  Alter is author of the award-winning book The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights (Princeton University Press, 2014); Transplanting International Courts: The Law and Politics of the Andean Tribunal of Justice (Oxford University Press, 2017, with Laurence Helfer); The European Court’s Political Power (Oxford University Press, 2009), and Establishing the Supremacy of European Law (Oxford University press, 2001), and more than sixty articles and book chapters on the politics of international law, comparative international courts, and international regime complexity.  She is also co-editor of the Oxford Handbook on International Adjudication (Oxford University Press, 2014) and International Court Authority (Oxford University Press, 2018). Alter serves on the editorial boards of the American Journal of International Law, International Studies Review, and , Journal of International Dispute Settlement, where she is an associate editor. She is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. Alter is a former Guggenheim Fellow, winner of the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, and the winner of the American Society of International Law’s Certificate of Merit for a Preeminent Contribution to Creative Scholarship. 

Books  Book Cover: The New Terrain of International Law by Karen Alter

  • International Court Authority with Laurence R. Helfer and Mikael R. Madsen Eds (Oxford University Press, 2018)
  • Transplanting International Courts: The Law and Politics of the Andean Tribunal of Justice with Laurence R. Helfer (Oxford University Press, 2017)
  • The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights (Princeton University Press, 2014)
  • Oxford Handbook on International Adjudication (Oxford University Press, 2014) (co-editor with Cesare Romano and Yuval Shany)
  • The European Court’s Political Power (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Establishing the Supremacy of European Law (Oxford University Press, 2001)

Select Publications

Courses taught

Undergraduate level

  • PS 101: The Rule of Law Around the World
  • PS 343: The Politics of International Law
  • PS 347: Ethics and International Affairs
  • PS 395: International Organizations and National Policy
  • PS 398: Honors Thesis Seminar

Graduate level

  • PS 440: International Relations Theory
  • PS 442: International Organization
  • PS 443: International  Law and International Politics

Law School

  • International Courts and Tribunals


  • Provost Award for Exemplary Faculty Service, 2023
  • Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured IR Faculty, 2023
  • Board of Lady Managers of the Columbia Exposition Chair, 2018-2021.
  • Certificate of Merit for a Preeminent Contribution to Creative Scholarship, American Society of International Law, 2015.
  • Best Book, ILAW Section of the International Studies Association, 2014.
  • Honorable Mention Chadwick F. Alger Prize for the best book published on the subject of international organization and multilateralism. International Studies Association2014.
  • American Academy Berlin Prize, 2012.
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, awarded in the field of law, 2011.