An increasing number of international law scholars over the last few years have started to turn their attention to the study of political economy. To what extent can this trend be considered an indication of an underlying ‘disciplinary turn’? How should one understand the phenomenon of disciplinary turns? The answer we propose to this question in this article proceeds from the assumption that not all disciplinary shifts follow the same logic. Unlike the linguistic or the historical turn, the turn to political economy in contemporary international law does not represent an exercise in inter-disciplinary exploration. The concept of political economy used in international law has very little to do with the actual discipline of political economy. It is much more diffuse and unfocused in theoretical terms. What gives it its essential sense of identity is not any form of distinct methodological orientation, but rather its basic usefulness as a potential marker of critical self-distancing vis-à-vis the mainstream international law tradition and its ideological function as a mediating device for the expression of a deep-seated concern about the structural injustices of modern capitalism.