October 15, 2014
by ecp96@cornell.edu
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Exchanging Expectations: Finance, Neofascism, and Relationality in Post-Fukushima Japan

On July 14th, I gave a lecture to The School of Criticism and Theory in which I analyze “Abenomics” — the financial policy of Japan’s far right government — as an example of a new emerging economic and political régime. I ask, what comes after neoliberalism, and what challenges does it pose to critique? The paper I present is co-authored with Hirokazu Miyazaki, Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University. The video appears here.

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September 28, 2014
by ecp96@cornell.edu
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From Comparison to Collaboration: Experiments with a New Scholarly and Political Form

In both the anthropology of law and comparative legal studies, a new direction for research and practice is emerging: collaboration. My forthcoming article in Law and Contemporary Problems analyzes collaboration as a modality of comparative law and legal anthropology and indeed a wider template for social and political life at this moment. I consider the theoretical and practical reasons for its importance at this moment, and its implications for the relationship of comparative law and legal anthropology. I argue that the very ubiquity and mundanity of collaboration discourse and practice in law and policy suggests that a response cannot simply be critique from outside — it must entail doing something with and within this template. I work through these claims through the example of a transnational and transdisciplinary collaborative intellectual project I am directing, known as Meridian 180. The full text appears here.

April 3, 2014
by ar254@cornell.edu
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Ditching the traditional conference format

Last week I participated in a workshop in New York City sponsored by the Aspen Institute and organized by my wonderful law school colleague Lynn Stout on new approaches to corporate governance.  Lynn experimented with a totally different conference format–no podiums, no panels, no long speeches followed by polite questions from the audience.

Instead, we sat around breakfast tables and started the day by introducing ourselves and telling the group what we were reading at the moment. Then we split into small groups of five to discuss what was the most exciting idea we had encountered in the field (other than our own!).  Throughout the day we moved through a series of exercises, from writing on flipboards to “tweeting” on notecards, to imagining the world in ten years’ time and how we got there, to sharing one or two of the things we were most proud of or wish we could do differently in our careers to date.

Academics are creatures of habit and some people seemed to have trouble adapting to this new format. Some even flunked the introductions and couldn’t help launching into a speech about their own work.  Others just couldn’t put aside the impulse to promote their own ideas long enough to engage in the collaborative exercise. But I thought it was really fun. For one thing, people were not constantly checking their email while sitting through long presentations that had long ago ossified into positions the authors were only willing to defend, but not revisit.

I suppose the downside of such an approach is that it tends to produce back-of-the-envelope type thinking rather than sustained, researched, and nuanced ideas.  But it depends what your goal is.  Lynn’s goal was to foster an environment that encouraged junior scholars and created networks among junior scholars and senior scholars. For that purpose it worked beautifully because junior people could speak on an equal footing with senior people.

What experiences have you had with alternative formats for scholarly engagement? What has worked and not worked in your experience? What ideas for possible formats would you be interested in trying? I think this is something we need to think about more.

March 5, 2014
by ar254@cornell.edu
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From Comparison to Collaboration: New Directions in the Ethnography of Law

A week ago, I gave a keynote lecture at a conference organized by anthropology graduate student at Princeton, Temple, and the University of Pennsylvania. I spoke about Meridian 180, a transnational, nonpartisan community of exceptional Pacific Rim intellectuals dedicated to enhancing the transpacific dialogue and building expertise across professional domains which I founded in 2011.    The project is includes a number of renowned anthropologists of the contemporary in its leadership who experience the project as very much an application of their ethnographic skill and a transformation of the meaning and purpose of ethnography as a method and anthropology as a discipline.  I argued to the anthropologists at the conference that the work that is going on inside Meridian 180 is “ethnography” even though it does not take the traditional forms of ethnographic research – – journal articles, monographs, and the like. We had a lively debate about this. Some participants rejected the idea that this work could count as ethnography, mainly because it seems too planned and controlled. Others asked,  it this is ethnography, then what result does it produce? What does it teach us to the world? Or how does it change the law for example?

What defines ethnography today and what is its contribution to legal studies in particular? For many years the ethnography of law was about comparison–making insight out of the differences.  Today, in contrast, it is not comparison but collaboration that stakes the most powerful claim as a scholarly method that is also a necessary professional skill and a policy-relevant practice.  Law schools everywhere are rushing to teach young lawyers how to collaborate effectively.  Collaborative opportunities also obviate the need for comparative scholarship: Who needs to read a scholarly comparison of legal institutions in India and the United States, or for that matter, who needs ethnographic research, when one can simply incorporate an Indian legal thinker into one’s project collaboratively?

Collaboration has always been integral to what anthropologists do, and so the debate at the conference was about whether collaboration has to remain instrumentally in the service of producing data (about differences between legal systems for example) to qualify as ethnography or whether there might be other contributions of, and other criteria for ethnographic research today.

The paper explores this by drawing out a contrast between our members’ form of engagement, which builds upon anthropological ideas about the transformative potential of exchange, and the traditional “free speech” approach to dialogue in the public sphere–the approach that undergirds most blogs, list serves, and the like.  It describes a small crisis event in the project that crystallized for us how collaboration as ethnography is different from what most laws and lawyers understand dialogue and collaboration to be about.  I will speak about this again at a conference at UC Irvine law school this saturday and the paper will eventually be published in the UC Irvine Law Review.

 

February 8, 2014
by ar254@cornell.edu
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Upcoming Presentation at NYU Law School Feb. 24

I will be presenting my forthcoming paper, Managing Regulatory Arbitrage: A Conflict of Laws Approach, in Grainne de Burca and Benedict Kingsbury’s workshop series on international legal theory at NYU Law School on February 24.  The workshop will be held in 316 Furman Hall. More information is available here.  A copy of the paper is available here.

January 31, 2014
by ar254@cornell.edu
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Upcoming Keynote at Tempennton Conference, “Imagining Utopia,” Princeton University, Feb. 21

On February 21, I will present “Is the Law Hopeful?” as the keynote address at an annual conference organized by graduate students in anthropology at U Penn, Princeton and Temple Universities.  More information about the conference is here.

Here’s the abstract of my paper:

What does the law contribute to hope? Is there anything hopeful about law? What can legal studies contribute to the now vigorous debates in economics, sociology, psychology, philosophy, literary studies and anthropology about the nature and sources of hope in personal and social life? Rather than focus on the ends of law (social justice, economic efficiency, etc.), Riles will focus instead on the means (or techniques of the law). Through a critical engagement with the work of Hans Vaihinger, Morris Cohen and Pierre Schlag on legal fictions and legal technicalities, she argues that what is “hopeful” about law is its “As-If” quality.

January 31, 2014
by ar254@cornell.edu
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Must a Conflicts Approach be Narrow-minded?

This week I had the pleasure of presenting my forthcoming article, “Managing Regulatory Arbitrage: A Conflict of Laws Approach” at the Tulane law school. (A description of the paper is here.) Tulane is a faculty with deep expertise in Conflicts and comparative law so I was really excited to get reactions of colleagues there.
One particular criticism of the paper, from Professor Adeno Addis, really got me thinking. He asked, what about the interest of third parties to derivatives contracts? He was thinking especially about the interests of the developing world in financial transactions which produce considerable externalities beyond the North Atlantic region where most of the derivatives market is based.
This is an important criticism. It is true that a conflict of laws analysis works its magic often by defining the “interests” at stake in a transaction in a quite narrow way such that wider third party interests are excluded. While many critics of US post-realist conflicts analysis have attacked the American approach on this basis, it is also the case that vested rights approaches and civilian approaches narrowly define the relevant interests as the “private interests” of specific rights holders without regard to the more “public” concerns of a wider class of third parties.
I often hear a more simple version of this criticism that goes like this: the technicalities of conflicts obscure the real politics of financial regulation. They turn fundamental disagreements, say, about whose interests matter more–those of the big financial firms that sell derivatives or those of the consumers of those products–into a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo. This is wrong, the criticism goes, because we should talk directly and explicitly about what is really at stake, rather than hiding the ball. I understand but disagree with this criticism. As I have suggested elsewhere, sometimes using the vocabulary of legal technique can be useful, as long as everyone understands that it is only a vocabulary, a way of channeling and framing a political conversation.
But Professor Addis’s criticism is more challenging. He reframes the political point in a way that conflicts can and must deal with it–what about third party interests?
By way of the beginnings of a response, I would say just that–that conflicts can and must deal with third party interests. There are plenty of conflicts cases in which such interests are recognized as legitimate and folded into the conflicts analysis, and there is nothing that prevents sophisticated decision-makers from doing this even more. In fact, in the hypothetical discussed in my paper, the SEC in effect evokes the third party interests of owners of US real estate who saw their investments devastated by the impact of the mortgage backed securities market. But it is up to judges or regulators to think actively, with technical sophistication and legal imagination, about such interests, and about the trade-off between “resolving conflicts problems” and taking a richer and more complete picture of the interests at stake in any legal issue.