The idea of this new GLOBINAR – an online avatar of the traditional “pilagg” seminar – is to open a discussion on the relationship between law, capitalism and crisis by revisiting various canonical texts, and putting them into perspective or making them dialogue with new ones. The focus is NOT on the pandemic that we may still be living through in September 2020, but more broadly on the various forms of chaos induced by capitalism in our lives and life forms, visions, experiences, environment, societies, governance, cultures, language, sexuality, and more. While the chosen texts aren’t necessarily legal, the point is to think about law’s role within these many upheavals, mutations or paradigm changes. One view of law we are proposing is both internal to and generated by capitalism. Law can also be the frame that enables market distribution, the configuration of a surplus, the identity of a worker. Thus, we understand law as both a necessary and inherent part of capitalism’s modus operandi, affecting its economic forefront but also and most importantly, as a force that modifies background rules at every turn.
Using crisis – past, present, and science-fictional future – as a lens through which to view the interaction between law and capital is just one way among many to revisit not only capitalism's inner conflicts and contradictions, but also law’s own political economy, or again the impact of modern legal thought on the genesis and destiny of the capitalocene. Here, it will lead us back to a series of foundational texts that continue to shape our perspective, even as our gaze shifts to the global stage and contemporary accounts of the multiple injustices, disruptions, and loss of meaning in our lives. It will also provide the opportunity to relate our legal life-forms and interpretations to broader literary or cinematographic narratives about our current world.
Unlike a once dominant perspective, the project does not approach capitalism as an unequivocal, streamlined economic process, a basic structure constituted by productive forces and economic relations – with law merrily nestled up against the superstructure as one of capitalism’s willing servants. Instead, capitalism is introduced here as a global social formation and life-form that comprises and processes, produces and destroys, according to its needs, money and labour, power and knowledge, culture and nature.
Law has always accompanied capitalism through its transformations and the epochal submission of women and workers, colonies and slaves as an accomplice, sometimes a free-rider and a legitimizing authority. While we trace and profile (as far as will be possible) the genealogy of capitalism’s takings – from the enclosure of common land, the colonizing of societies and the exploitation of natural resources to the more recent cannibalizing of non-economic sectors of society, like education, public safety and public health – , it will be crucial to analyse law’s and lawyers’ disciplinary, normative and ideological contributions to capitalism’s well-being, as well as to the various emancipatory or transformative moments that may have served or hoped to break its momentum. As we look at capitalism’s histories and metamorphoses, language and epistemology, constitution and courtship, gender and nature, and its other domains, we hope to find out what adequately describes the “intimate dualism” between capitalism and law – relative autonomy, structural alliance, division of labour, parasitism, complicity or some other feature?
Crisis has now lost its original meaning as a turning point for better or worse of a disease, so crises of capitalism connote less a paroxysmal attack than a massive, protracted functional disorder that endangers its own institutions, like the real estate market or investment banking, or even the performance or hegemony of the capitalist system. Especially, the ceaseless economic accumulation and the unequal distribution of wealth have historically been regarded as drivers for severe cyclical crises. More recently, this crisis tendency has been associated with a contradiction that sets up an increased interdependency between different elements of the capitalist system against the absence of a general agency for their coordination. On the global plane, capitalism’s disposition to generate crises has been attributed to the close interlocking of international flows of capital, production and value chains, border-crossing trade relations and knowledge transfers. An inherently crisis-prone mode of production is clearly dependent upon some kind of local or global regulatory regime to kick in where self-regulation fails. The GLOBINAR will be an ideal opportunity to discuss whether and how law is activated not only to shield the foundational pillars of capitalism (property, contracts), legitimize the methods of capital accumulation and code its assets but also to guide and constrain the interventions of governments and international organisations to restore the economy’s balance, sustain capitalism’s hegemony and thus solve crises.
With particular relevance to the “boundary struggles” that have always been (literally and metaphorically, geographically and normatively) a central focus of the pilagg seminars, Nancy Fraser’s critical-theoretical framework will serve as starting point – and we are honoured indeed that Rahel Jaeggi has accepted to open our first session. Focusing on capitalism’s “crisis tendencies”, this framework asks how current forms of capitalism (financialized, globalized, neo-liberal) redraw (once again) the lines between commodity production and social reproduction, between private and public power, between human beings and the rest of nature, between exploitation and expropriation. From the perspective of critical political theory, this framework joins forces with its critical legal counterpart in revealing the ways in which each mutation of the capital form is undergirded by a specific order or law. Yesterday, the supremacy of contract, the ubiquity of debt, and the sharp division between public and private authority; today, transnational governance regimes to empower capital to discipline the very constituencies to whom it is supposedly accountable. An additional geopolitical understanding of these boundary struggles might highlight the ways in which such regimes are used to structure the global value chains that dismantle national sovereignty and local claims to political and legal autonomy, while the simultaneous growth of surveillance pushes capital’s extractive project still further.
In our present times of worldwide sanitary and social disaster and environmental depredation, against a backdrop of generalized and protracted constitutional states of exception, the question further arises as to whether or not we are witnessing a new, more radical crisis of capitalism as it fails to contain the violence of its own inner contradictions and conflicts inherent in these boundary struggles. Do post-covid social movements, the environmental consciousness of a new generation, signs of economic collapse spreading from the periphery to the core, herald the end if not of neo-liberalism as such, then (in Fraser’s terms) of neoliberalism as a hegemonic project? This question is not only theoretical – although it seems obvious that no intellectual work in the political and legal humanities can or should be done without its urgent consideration – but engages the conditions of possibility, beyond the current crisis, for the building of a more hospitable world. Understanding law’s much underestimated role – constitutive or emancipatory? infrastructural or superstructural? – within capital’s global hegemonies and local conflicts, smooth transitions and radical metamorphoses, is just one possible starting point...
The program proposed by the discursive collective of the GLOBINAR is undoubtedly ambitious – commensurably with the gravity and contemporary relevance of its topic. It covers a lot of ground in the fourteen sessions planned to run over the next two semesters. The GLOBINAR will take place on line for the first semester. Sessions take place every two weeks during our two semesters and last at most two hours each. We’ll have to wait and see whether we can have some live attendance (in the usual room), and how we’ll organize the second semester. A grand finale is planned during the intensive doctoral week in June at Sciences Po.
The GLOBINAR will run in a book-club mode. Three convenors are asked to start a conversation (30 minutes maximum, so it has to be brief) about any one of the chosen texts or other materials, or the relationship between them. An informal discussion will ensue in which the participants will pick up any of these threads.
Registration is required (on the homepage). Registered participants will receive access to the readings (including a shortened version of the chosen texts designed specifically to support and encourage discussion) and a suggested list of issues on which discussion might focus.
 Nancy Fraser, Rahel Jaeggi, Capitalism. A Conversation in Critical Theory Polity Press, 2018