ClassCrits IV, “Criminalizing Economic Inequality”

Sponsored by American University, Washington College of Law
Washington, D.C. * September 23-24, 2011

This workshop, the fourth meeting of ClassCrits, takes as its theme the criminalization of economic inequality. The dominance of “free market” economic theory and policy has been accompanied in the U.S. by increasing reliance on the criminal justice system to make and enforce economic policy. The criminal justice system is increasingly used to control persons and groups whose participation in formal markets is marginal at best. Many aspects of traditional immigration law have morphed into “crimmigration”, appropriating domestic criminal law enforcement tools and redefining whole communities of workers and their families as “illegal people.” States and municipalities have criminalized the lives of homeless people, including those who are mentally ill. International markets in heroin, cocaine, and marijuana are the targets of a “war on drugs” fought through criminal justice (and military) methods. Criminal law is used to deter and punish sex trafficking, and the criminal justice system buttresses, or substitutes for, welfare policy. At the same time, corporate wrongdoing has been lightly punished, if at all, and the drumbeat against “government” as the enemy of the people continues unabated. In this sense, economic inequality has not been “criminalized” at all. Quite the opposite, powerful interests encourage American citizens to see economic inequality as natural and good. Criminalizing Economic Inequality will provide an opportunity for legal scholars, economists, policymakers, activists, and others to critically examine the relationship between state power and market power in upward redistribution and the continued spread of laissez-faire ideology.

We invite panel proposals and paper presentations that speak to this year’s theme as well as to general classcrits themes. See the following page for details.

In addition, we extend a special invitation to junior scholars to submit proposals for works in progress. Each work in progress will be commented upon by a senior scholar as well as other scholars in a small, supportive working session.

ClassCrits is a network of scholars and activists interested in critical analysis of law and economic relations. The global economic crisis, along with growing economic inequality and insecurity, suggests it is time to explore alternatives to the neoclassical or “free market” economic paradigm, often identified with the U.S. “Law and Economics” movement. We aim to revive discussions of questions of class pushed to the margins or relegated to the shadowy past, considering the possible meaning and relevance of economic class to the contemporary context. We also hope to better integrate the rich diversity of economic methods and theories into law by exploring and engaging non-neoclassical and heterodox economics. The name “ClassCrits” reflects our interest in focusing on economics through the lens of critical legal scholarship movements, such as critical legal studies, critical feminist theory, critical race theory, LatCrit, and queer theory. That is, we start with the
assumption that economics in law is inextricably political and fundamentally tied to questions of systemic status-based subordination.

Possible Topics: Criminalizing Economic Inequality
* The enforcement of immigration law far from the U.S. border, by ICE and by the police
* The relationship between trade policy, immigration policy, and criminal justice
* The increase in laws tightening the uses of public space, especially those directed against the homeless
* The use of prison labor to produce goods and services for a larger market
* The construction of sex trafficking as a moral issue suitable for control by the criminal justice system, rather than an economic issue
* The use of remittances to send money from the U.S. to countries in the global South, and the use of the criminal justice system to punish the small businesses that organize and send remittances
*The role of criminal justice in addressing the subprime mortgage crisis.

In addition, we invite panel proposals that speak to the general themes of ClassCrits, including:
*The legal and cultural project of constructing inequalities of all kinds as natural, normal, and necessary
*The relationships among economic, racial, and gender inequality
* The development of new methods with which to analyze and criticize economics and law (beyond traditional “law and economics”)
* The relationship between material systems and institutions and cultural systems and institutions.

The venue for the gathering is American University, Washington College of Law. The workshop will begin with lunch on Friday Sept. 23 and continue through the afternoon of Sat. Sept. 24. Arrangements are being made for conference hotels. Please check our website for further updates or email the conference planners.

Attendees are responsible for their own travel and lodging expenses.

Ezra Rosser, American University, Washington College of Law,
Angela Harris, University at Buffalo Law School (Spring 2011) and UC Davis School of Law (beginning Fall 2011)
Martha McCluskey, University at Buffalo Law School,
Athena Mutua, University at Buffalo Law School,
Teresa Miller, University at Buffalo Law School,

Please submit your proposal by email to by May 6, 2011.

This entry was posted in Events. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to ClassCrits IV, “Criminalizing Economic Inequality”

  1. David Abraham says:

    Why does the word “marxism” not even merit mention in discussing the topic? Every one of the specific issues listed here has a place in both 19th and 20th C marxist work. I have my suspicions as to why –too much universalism– but I could be wrong.

  2. Martha McCluskey says:

    I appreciate you raising the question of Marxism, and we welcome you and others to discuss it further at the workshop and on this website, and otherwise. A previous workshop included a session discussing readings from Marxian theory, and many participants were interested in continuing that work. One issue that came up was that many of us have very little knowledge of Marxism, in part because U.S. academia (and particularly training in law, economics and policy) has largely pushed it off the table (except in some corners of the humanities). For that reason some of us are more at the point of learning more about the basic ideas of Marxist theory than applying it. Further, my view is that ClassCrits aims to include a range of approaches to critical analysis of economic inequality, including participants who reject much of Marxism. We particularly want to avoid a presumption of a hierarchy of inequality that treats economic class as more fundamental than or separate from race, gender, sexuality, and other axes of power. I also want to avoid abstract factionalism, so that we focus less on labeling our differing approaches and more on engaging debate about specific issues and ideas. Another question is whether there is sufficient academic freedom to openly discuss Marxism without major personal and professional cost (see previous post on withdrawal of Provost offer to scholar who mentioned Marx in a paper on higher education).

  3. Pingback: ClassCrits Conference Call for Papers | Lawyer News & Information

  4. Pingback: CFP: Class Crits (proposals, May 6 – conference, Washington DC Sept. 23/24 2011)

  5. Pingback: Heterodox Economics Newsletter – Issue 115 – May 2011 « Marx21

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s