IILJ Colloquium Fall 2019

Infrastructure, Rights and Regulation

Convened by Benedict Kingsbury and Sally Engle Merry

Decisions about the design, financing, construction, and use of infrastructure have tremendous effects on all aspects of life, society, economy, and security. This course is about the relations of infrastructures to law, rights, and regulation.

When Robert Moses built New York’s parkway roads to enable access from the city to the beaches, he added numerous low overpasses, thus preventing travel by lower-income people using buses. Similar choices about access and behavior are made daily by digital platform companies such as Facebook or AirBnB. When made deliberately, these choices operate as regulation—but these regulators are often themselves only thinly or unevenly regulated. Worldwide and locally, major physical and digital infrastructure projects at times bring pride and hope but also shape social relations and affect rights, capabilities, and life-chances. Different infrastructures are unified in standardized technologies (such as shipping containers or internet data packets), in informational systems (such as rankings and statistics), and in the internet of things.

We probe the implications of all of this for law, and conversely, we investigate the current and potential roles for laws, rights, and regulation in relation to infrastructure, with particular attention to transnational contexts. The course enables students to deepen thinking about these issues, and to participate (if desired) through research and scholarship in a major new cross-disciplinary IILJ research project on infrastructures.

The course aims both to provide a structured approach to this field in seminar-format with systematic readings, and to engage with very interesting work of guest speakers. The course begins with basics about infrastructure, rights, and regulatory governance as they connect with one another. We canvas core legal and social science/STS concepts and ideas about infrastructure in global contexts, including the interactions between law, engineering, regulators, corporations, financiers, and ordinary human beings affected. We cover the life cycle of infrastructure: macro ideology, and planning, layering, specific projects design and societal and regulatory approval, operation, maintenance, repurposing, and decay or ruination. We seek collectively to distill from this some of the most promising ideas for thinking differently about infrastructural rights and regulation, time and space, equities and justice now and in the future—and to use these ideas to think differently about law.

Public speaker sessions (4pm in FH 120):

Tuesday, 1 October 2019: Miriam Ticktin, New School for Social Research.
Topic: Borders and Border Walls as Infrastructure

Tuesday, 15 October 2019: Ashley Carse, Vanderbilt University.
Topic: Nature as Infrastructure—Reflections on the Panama Canal

Tuesday, 29 October 2019: Nikhil Anand, University of Pennsylvania.
Topic: Water Infrastructure, Human Rights & Privatization

Tuesday, 5 November 2019: Andrea Muehlebach, University of Toronto.
Topic: Responding to Water Infrastructure Financialization: From Above and Below

Tuesday, 12 November 2019: Natasha Schüll, NYU Steinhardt (Media, Culture & Communications)
Topic: Regulating Infrastructural Addictions: From Casinos to Self-Monitoring Technologies