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In pursuing sustainable global economic law, the question of how we construct and identify the “economic” is critical. Anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and scholars of science and technology studies have approached the formation of what we call the economy in a variety of ways, but all acknowledge that the “economy” operates as a framing device through which specific kinds of social relations are endowed with meaning and value. Economic theory has consistently rendered some social and natural processes legible for market-based forms of governance, while excluding others as “non-economic.” Those that are excluded have, as feminists and political ecologists illuminated, often been central to social reproduction.  As a result, counter-movements have consistently emerged to challenge the boundaries of the economic domain and what is assigned value.

With the rise of neoliberalism, economic forms of knowledge ascended as a dominant interpretive paradigm as the market became the archetype for organizing the state and society. In a bid to produce a “green economy,” neoliberals have sought to render the natural world legible to markets and extend the calculative logics of capitalist logics to many social and natural processes. As a result, new questions have emerged not over what we value, but how we value. Indeed, critical scholars are increasingly examining the value practices through which we constitute our relationships with the human and more-than-human world. What does it mean to produce or create value? Value for whom?

The scholars in this series examine the practice and production of value in different ways. Amy J. Cohen examines the unintended consequences of social movements advocating for fair trade through markets, Geoff Gordon and Isabel Feichtner trace the significance of the concept of value practices for international law, Usha Natarajan illuminates the consequences of separating the economy from ecology for peoples in the Global South, and Yoriko Otomo illuminates the way gendered forms of value get inscribed into the material, narrative, and symbolic construction of law. Together these contributions not only raise significant questions about the subject of sustainable global economic law, but also suggest different theoretical and methodological frameworks for apprehending the law’s role in the production of the economy.

(Photo: Eutah Mizushima)