Transformations in the Global Polity through Public and Private Law

18 Jun to 19 Jun

Coordinators: A. Claire Cutler (University of Victoria), Edward Cohen (Westminster College), Thomas Dietz (University of Munster)

Description of the meeting

The global polity is currently undergoing a new era of transformations. These transformations are reshaping fundamental relationships across multiple dimensions, including politics and governance, the economy, culture, international and transnational relationships, and human migration. The post-1989 hegemonic era – which witnessed the combining of neo-liberal capitalism with specific forms of liberal democracy – appears to be cracking in a variety of places and across a variety of dimensions. In this Workshop, we explore the specific ways in which Public and Private law – national, international, and transnational – are being reconfigured and are responding to critical transformations in light of the emergence of new forms of polity and (dis)order.

Law played a central role in the construction, governance, and pervasiveness of the neo-liberal era. Transformations in public and private law helped to create the key institutions and dynamics of that era – integrated transnational financial markets, complex networks of global supply chain production, a globalized discourse of the rule of law and human rights, the de-nationalization (and privatization) of state practices in the Global North, the Washington and Post-Washington Consensus development models in the Global South, and the global trading and investment regimes, which entwined much of the world into transnational production networks and empowered the power and authority of transnational corporations. In the process, the boundaries between Private and Public (as well as national and international) law grew fuzzier and the emergence of a properly transnational field of legal norms, practices, and institutions became widely recognized. At the same time, the study of the intersection of law, the economy, and society moved steadily towards a focus on key intersections of private and public law and their transnational dynamics.

The emergence of a new era of transformations has not simply reversed these developments. Key areas of law continue to advance the agendas of human rights and liberal democracy, private power in the governance of markets, and the transnational integration of market and information flows. However, a new set of social, ideological, political, and economic developments are beginning to fundamentally challenge and reshape major areas of private, public, and transnational law and the relationships between them. These include emerging resistance to the deepening of economic integration (as seen in the controversies surrounding the TTIP, TPP, and investor-state arbitration); the revival of populist-nationalist political movements (and governments) that challenge key dimensions of the neoliberal political and economic order; intensified inter-state competition in a multi-polar world, leading to attempts to re-shape global supply chains and data flows for reasons of national security; the (re)emergence of China, Russia, and India as major actors in politics, economics, and security; and a seeming ‘retreat’ of the liberal-democratic norms and legal institutions commonly associated with the post-1989 era. The resulting dynamics are reshaping dimensions of the role of law in ordering the global polity, as well as uprooting the epistemological and ontological foundations of law itself.

Our challenge in this Workshop is to engage theoretically and empirically with the manifold ways in which law is evolving in response to these transformations, with the aim of understanding how law is being mobilized to both facilitate and/or resist certain aspects of these changes. We are particularly interested in the sources of these new transformations; in the ways broader social, political, and economic changes are embedded within specific dimensions of legal norms, rules, and institutions; in examining the coexistence of continuity and change in the law; and in the possible ways in which both public and private law can be (and has been) engaged for forms of resistance to these transformations. To do so, the Workshop is organized around broad themes of ongoing transformations in the substance and role of law, leaving panelists free to explore specific empirical and theoretical aspects of legal change and/or continuity. These themes include broad theoretical concerns, Public and Private Law, the fate of Transnational law, the sources and impacts of legal change in Europe, and the role of the Global South as both a source and arena for legal transformations in the global polity. Along the way, participants will be encouraged to think about how the empirical and conceptual developments we discuss can impact the socio-legal and critical political-economic studies of law, and how the emergence of new perspectives – feminist, indigenous, Southern, critical – can help to reshape the way we think about law in both present day and into the future.

For more information: 

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