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Labor, Social Control, and Counterpower

Spring 2023

LPE at HLS and the LPE Project are pleased to announce the conference, Law and Political Economy: Labor, Social Control, and Counterpower. The event will take place from March 31 to April 2, 2023 at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This year’s conference focuses on two critical areas of LPE scholarship and practice:

  • Law, Labor, and Class Power, which encompasses 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 engages questions related to carcerality, social welfare, and the imposition of social order and subordination in capitalist societies.

Conference events will be held in-person and will also be livestreamed. Following the conference, session recordings will be posted online. The conference is free to attend, but registration is required for in-person attendance.

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Friday, March 31, 12:45PM

Historical Lessons for Labor Strategy

Catherine Fisk (Berkeley Law), Diana Reddy (Berkeley Law), and Laura Weinrib (Harvard Law School)

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.

Matthew Bodie (University of Minnesota Law School)

Friday, March 31, 2:15PM

Institutional Design and Democratic Governance

Amy Kapczynski (Yale Law School), Joel Michaels (Yale Law School), K. Sabeel Rahman (Brooklyn Law School), and Sandeep Vaheesan (Open Markets Institute)
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.

Luke Herrine (University of Alabama School of Law)

Friday, March 31, 4:00PM

Provision and Punishment

Jasmine Harris (Penn Law), Jamelia Morgan (Northwestern Law), and Jonathan Simon (Berkeley Law)
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.

Andrew Crespo (Harvard Law School)

Saturday, April 1, 10:30AM

Labor Law at a Crossroads

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)
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.

Hiba Hafiz (Boston College Law School)

Saturday, April 1, 10:30AM

Race and Empire in International Law

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)

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.

Felipe Ford Cole (Boston College Law School)

Saturday, April 1, 1:30PM

Strategy and Practice in the Labor Struggle

Maximillian Alvarez (Real News Network), Willie Burden (International Brotherhood of Teamsters), Kim Kelly (journalist and author of Fight Like Hell), Lenita Reason (Brazilian Worker Center)

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.

Diana Reddy (Berkeley Law)

Saturday, April 1, 1:30PM

Decarcerating the Welfare State

nia t. evans (independent journalist), Joyce McMillan (JMacforFamilies), and Leon Smith (Citizens for Juvenile Justice)

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.

Amna Akbar (Ohio State University Moritz College of Law)

Sunday, April 2, 9:00AM

Law, Gender, and Social Control

Aziza Ahmed (Boston University School of Law), Deborah Dinner (Cornell Law School), and Salomé Viljoen (University of Michigan Law School)

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.


Amy Kapczynski (Yale Law School)

Sunday, April 2, 10:45AM

Emancipation, Strategy, and Tactics

Amna Akbar (Ohio State University Moritz College of Law), Amy Cohen (Temple Law), and Jocelyn Simonson (Brooklyn Law School)
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.

Daniel Farbman (Boston College Law School)