ClassCrits Workshop VI Stuck in Forward? Debt, Austerity and the Possibilities of the Political

Stuck in Forward? Debt, Austerity and the Possibilities of the Political

ClassCrits VI   Sponsored by Southwestern Law School &
U.C. Davis School of Law
Los Angeles, CA    * November 15-16, 2013
Keynote Speaker: Professor Akhil Gupta, Department of Anthropology
Director, Center for India and South Asia, University of California, Los Angeles


The theme of this year’s workshop–the sixth meeting of ClassCrits–is debt, austerity and the possibilities of the political. The economic crisis of 2008 was a referendum on the failures of deregulation and neoliberal ideology all over the world. Far from being a sophisticated mechanism to absorb and diffuse systemic economic risk, the crisis exposed a fragile global financial system characterized by dysfunctional imbalances of increasingly precarious and largely unregulated risk societies. In the United States, the social contract of class mobility and the “American Dream” financed with “easy” credit was exposed as an empty promise. In the European context, the sovereign debt crisis resulted in the imposition of draconian austerity measures in several nation-states, like Greece, undermining social safety nets and wage structures, rupturing traditional alliances, and driving down individual standards of living. At the same time, the Occupy Movement—and similar movements across the globe—refocused attention on socio-economic inequality for the first time in decades. The old ways of seeing things proved inadequate for framing the changing realities of the new post-recession world. But whatever the initial shock to the social order, political and financial elites everywhere have since doubled down on the failed neoliberal project with a mania for balancing budgets in the name of discredited austerity policies which have only accelerated neoliberalism’s upward transfer and concentration of wealth and intensified the class stratification in contemporary global societies.  Stuck in the grip of austerity groupthink and faced with nation states captured by elite interests─a trend only made worse in the United States by Citizens United─any movement forward will require creatively leveraging national political and legal systems as instruments for progressive economic change and deleveraging social class divides.

What are the possibilities and alternatives for a genuinely progressive economic project in an age of resurgent neoliberal policies and politics, worldwide shifts in population and demographics, and hegemonic economics? How can we address the challenges of our age including, but not limited to: globalization; shifting power relationships between the developed world and formerly “third world” countries; massive intergenerational and upward transfers of wealth; abject poverty; staggering debt; wage stagnation; a declining middle class; an increasingly dysfunctional food system; and environmental and climate risks that will require concerted national and international efforts. Stuck in Forward? Debt, Austerity and the Possibilities of the Political will address these questions by bringing together scholars, economists, activists, policymakers, and others to critically examine and take stock of who wins, who loses, how the law facilitates the hierarchical and spatial distribution of winners and losers, and how we may use law and politics to develop both real and utopian interstitial spaces of classlessness within the new post-recession global order.

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 (i.e., graduate students or any non-tenured faculty member) to submit proposals for works in progress. A senior scholar as well as other scholars will comment upon each work in progress in a small, supportive working session.  

Possible Topics: Stuck in Forward? Debt, Austerity and the Possibilities of the Political

Debt, austerity and social discipline within and across cultures and borders

  • The gender implications of debt and austerity
  • Tensions between neoliberal economics and political progressivism
  • Population and shifting demographics—opportunities and rhetorical strategies
  • Class, inequality, family, and the new precariat
  • Capture and the regulated state
  • “Debt” as a political organizing strategy
  • The economy, class and energy policy
  • Class, race, climate change and the environment
  • The contracting state, private governance and the emergence of a new feudalism?
  • The enduring role of debt and neoliberal policy(s) in IMF/World Bank models of development.
  • Local and global networks: rich lenders/poor borrowers, winners/losers
  • Progressive and redistributive possibilities of law
  • Wages, labor, immigration, and politics
  • Credit and the debtor class
  • The right to work: rhetoric and reality
  • Law: mechanism of inequality or progressive solution?
  • The moral economy of debtor-creditor relations
  • The dysfunctional corporate food system
  • Leveraging national political systems against deleveraged finance capitalism
  • The privatization of social welfare and the cost-benefit state
  • Progressive strategies in the Obama era
  • The role of war and violence in sustaining a neoliberal world order
  • Criminalization of poverty
  • Local, national and international resistance—coalitions, strategies, and options

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 (including the interdisciplinary study and development of such 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 concept and reality of class within the international legal community, within international development studies and welfare strategies, and within a “flattening” world of globalized economics and geopolitical relations.

Proposal Submission Procedure and Deadline

Please submit your proposal by email to by March 20, 2013.  Proposals should include the author’s name, institutional affiliation and contact information, the title of the paper to be presented, and an abstract of the paper to be presented of no more than 750 words.  Junior scholar submissions for works in progress should be clearly marked as “JUNIOR SCHOLAR WORK IN PROGRESS PROPOSAL.”

Logistics & Fees

The venue for the gathering is Southwestern Law School. The workshop will begin with continental breakfast on Friday November 15 and continue through the afternoon of Saturday November 16.  Arrangements are being made for conference hotels. Please check our website for further updates or email the conference planners.

Workshop registration and participation is free for accepted presenters. Workshop attendees are responsible for their own travel and lodging expenses.


Conference Planning Committee

Danielle Kie Hart, Southwestern Law School

Tonya Brito, The University of Wisconsin Law School

Athena Mutua, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Lucille Jewel, John Marshall Law School

Martha McCluskey, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Jessica Owley, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Matthew Titolo, West Virginia University College of Law

René Reich-Graefe, Western New England University School of Law


About ClassCrits

ClassCrits is a network of scholars and activists interested in the critical, interdisciplinary and international 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.-origin “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 and social sciences 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, queer theory, and critical law and development 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.



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