LPE@HLS and the LPE Project were honored to host the conference, Law and Political Economy: Labor, Social Control, and Counterpower, from March 31 to April 2, 2023 at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The conference focused on two critical areas of LPE scholarship and practice:
- Law, Labor, and Class Power, which encompassed work on labor and employment, as well as examining law, class, and its interactions with race, gender, and other dimensions of subordination; and
- The Political Economy of Social Control, which engaged questions related to carcerality, social welfare, and the imposition of social order and subordination in capitalist societies.
Conference events were held in-person and livestreamed. All the panel recordings are now available online.
Friday, March 31
Lunch and Opening remarks
Vegan and vegetarian options available
Historical Lessons for Labor Strategy
We are in an era of renewed labor ferment, with dramatically rising interest in labor organizing alongside deficient legislative frameworks and a hostile judiciary. What can historical perspectives on labor movement strategies teach us about the potential and limits of organized labor power today? The panelists’ scholarly projects examine what lessons today’s labor activists might draw from the successes and failures of union, civil liberties, and civil rights lawyers in the mid-twentieth century.
Panelists: Catherine Fisk (Berkeley Law), Diana Reddy (Berkeley Law), and Laura Weinrib (Harvard Law School)
Moderator: Matthew Bodie (University of Minnesota Law School)
INSTITUTIONAL DESIGN AND DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE
It is commonplace in law and political economy scholarship to hear calls to “democratize” institutions or areas of law. This panel will interrogate what democratization might look like in practice across very different institutional contexts: utility regulation and workers cooperatives; administrative agencies; industrial policy; and the carceral state. By engaging across these distinct settings, the panelists aim to shed light on the conditions necessary for more genuinely egalitarian democratic control over the state and economy, and consider what it will take to get there.
Panelists: Amy Kapczynski (Yale Law School), Joel Michaels (Yale Law School), K. Sabeel Rahman (Brooklyn Law School), and Sandeep Vaheesan (Open Markets Institute)
Moderator: Luke Herrine (University of Alabama School of Law)
TECHNOLOGY AND POPULAR POWER
Technology today is a fundamental intermediary of labor and work, presenting enormous implications for workers’ rights and economic democracy. This panel will investigate how the legal regulation of data and technology shape capitalist relations, looking specifically at algorithmic decision-making, workplace surveillance, and artificial intelligence. Panelists will present new scholarship examining how these technologies are reshaping the relative power of workers and firms, and what these changes mean for collective action and industrial policy.
Panelists: Veena Dubal (UC Law SF), Frank Pasquale (Brooklyn Law School), and Brishen Rogers (Georgetown Law School)
Moderator: Aaron Benanav (Syracuse University)
Provision and Punishment
This panel will examine how legal regimes, carceral institutions, and social programs alike have evolved as vehicles to manage poverty and produce more governable and “productive” subjects, particularly in poor communities and communities of color. Panelists will discuss how social constructions of race, disability, and gender dictate the forms by which our legal systems interact with those subjects and explore what these insights mean for popular mobilization.
Panelists: Jasmine Harris (Penn Law), Jamelia Morgan (Northwestern Law), and Jonathan Simon (Berkeley Law)
Moderator: Andrew Crespo (Harvard Law School)
Drinks and hors d’oeuvres
Saturday, April 1
Emerging Scholars Workshop
Presentations by Terry Allen, Alexander Arnold, Ximena Benavides, Elizabeth Carter, Laura Dolbow, Brenda Dvoskin, Yan Fang, Jeff Gordon, Elizabeth Gyori, Brian Highsmith, Andrew Lanham, Sarah Lorr, Chika Okafor, Sarang Shah, Maria Stamas, and Hyun-Kyung Yuh
Labor Law at a Crossroads
If, as many observers have suggested, the U.S. labor struggle is at a key historical inflection point, how must we think differently about the future of worker power? In this panel conversation, leading legal scholars will provide a critical overview of contemporary strands of labor law research and share practical proposals to radically challenge the legal system’s treatment of workers and the commodification of labor.
Panelists: Sharon Block (Harvard Law School), Rohan Grey (Willamette University College of Law), Karl Klare (Northeastern University School of Law), and Benjamin Sachs (Harvard Law School)
Moderator: Hiba Hafiz (Boston College Law School)
Race and Empire in International Law
What are the contours of self-determination at a global scale? In this panel, leading critical legal scholars will examine the dynamics of social control and empire in the overlapping contexts of militarism, debt relations, and climate crisis. Surveying their fields, the panelists will discuss the role of law in international political economy and suggest areas for urgent intervention in the transnational legal order.
Panelists: Zohra Ahmed (University of Georgia School of Law), Asli Bali (Yale Law School), Angela Harris (UC Davis School of Law), and Ntina Tzouvala (ANU College of Law)
Moderator: Felipe Ford Cole (Boston College Law School)
Vegan and vegetarian options available
Decarcerating the Welfare State
How are people organizing to dismantle carceral structures, logics, and practices that pervade their communities? This panel will feature organizers, practitioners, and journalists on the frontlines who will highlight how communities are strategically mobilizing against the carceral state, with a focus on public schools and the child welfare system.
Moderator: Amna Akbar (Ohio State University Moritz College of Law)
Strategy and Practice in the Labor Struggle
This panel puts law and political economy perspectives on the labor movement in direct conversation with the on-the-ground efforts of organizers, practitioners, and journalists. Panelists will discuss their experiences in the labor movement, how their work interacts with the legal system, the challenges they confront, and the strategies on which they rely.
Panelists: Maximillian Alvarez (Real News Network and author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke), Willie Burden (International Brotherhood of Teamsters), Kim Kelly (journalist and author of Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor), and Lenita Reason (Brazilian Worker Center)
Moderator: Diana Reddy (Berkeley Law)
Democracy, Legal Authority, and the Courts
This panel will examine how our conceptions of constitutionalism, the courts, and legal authority facilitate or hinder shifts to more democratic modes of self-government. Panelists will trace the historical roots of our contemporary “juristocracy” and suggest interventions that reimagine the relationships between legal institutions, constitutional theory, and popular sovereignty.
Panelists: Niko Bowie (Harvard Law School), Ryan Doerfler (Harvard Law School), and Samuel Moyn (Yale Law School)
Moderator: K-Sue Park (Georgetown Law School)
THE LEGAL CONSTRUCTION OF GENDERED AND RACIALIZED CLASS relations
What characterizes the production and articulation of race, gender, and class in capitalism? What role do law and legal theory play? The papers in this panel address the legal infrastructure that sustains low-wage work under racial capitalism, social movement strategies challenging the immiseration of workers, and the role of lawyers in social movements; the need for LPE to engage the moral politics of productivity and the background legal structures that reward extraction of human value; and offer a new approach to class analysis designed to explain the dynamics of capitalism and the integral role of a racialized underclass and gender subordination in its history and structure.
Panelists: Sameer Ashar (UCI Law), Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School), Martha McCluskey (University of Buffalo Law School), Talha Syed (Berkeley Law)
Moderator: Guy-Uriel Charles (Harvard Law School)
Sunday, April 2
(Re)imagining Socialist Constitutionalism
What are the stakes in revisiting, and maybe reinventing, the socialist tradition? In this conversation, Professors Willy Forbath (UT Austin School of Law) and Aziz Rana (Cornell Law School) will explore the history of socialist constitutionalism, its political-economic commitments, and how they might guide constitutional visions today. Professor Forbath will frame his remarks in terms of an international and comparative project, while Professor Rana will discuss his forthcoming book, The Constitutional Bind: Why a Broken Document Rules America (University of Chicago Press, 2024).
Law, Gender, and Social Control
This panel will examine how legal regimes regulate gender in contemporary capitalism. These regimes are varied and extensive, including public health infrastructures, insurance markets, and surveillance technologies. In both ideological and material terms, panelists will discuss how these systems construct gender relations, relations of care, and patterns of social reproduction.
Panelists: Aziza Ahmed (Boston University School of Law), Deborah Dinner (Cornell Law School), and Salomé Viljoen (University of Michigan Law School)
Moderator: Amy Kapczynski (Yale Law School)
Emancipation, Strategy, and Tactics
This panel will examine how everyday people are fighting against or unmooring legal systems and their ideologies more broadly. Panelists will discuss the contradictions that confront social movements as they contest carceral and other dominant institutions and interrogate how these movements rearticulate justice, punishment, criminality, and legality.
Panelists: Amna Akbar (Ohio State University Moritz College of Law), Amy Cohen (Temple Law), and Jocelyn Simonson (Brooklyn Law School)
Moderator: Daniel Farbman (Boston College Law School)
Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School) and Amy Kapczynski (Yale Law School)