October 1, 2018

“Infrastructures as Regulation” Conference

The IILJ’s InfraReg project convened its inaugural conference on “Infrastructures-as-Regulation” on 28-29 September 2018 at NYU School of Law.

Participants came from all over the world — including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, India, Israel, Italy and The Netherlands– to spend two days together discussing the regulatory effects of infrastructures and the role of the law in their regulation.  Panelists shared their research on various manifestations of InfraReg, with presentations focused on specific case studies and on broader theoretical considerations. Disciplines represented included economics, history, anthropology, international and development studies, and different approaches to law. By bringing academics from diverse disciplines together, the IILJ created opportunities for in-depth, interdisciplinary and international knowledge building about InfraReg topics.

Day 1: Friday, 28 September 2018

With an impressive view over Washington Square, the participants gathered at the Colloquium Room of the NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual life for the first day of discussions on infrastructures as regulation. The initial session, chaired by Amy Zhang (NYU), began with an introduction by the directors of the project, Benedict Kingsbury and Sally Engle Merry, who presented some of the intuitions behind the InfraReg initiative. In turn, Gregoire Mallard (Graduate Institute, Geneva) commented on the direction of the project and presented a series of questions to be debated throughout the conference. Finally, Paul Mertenskötter, Thomas Streinz, and Nahuel Maisley -fellows of the InfraReg project- introduced their own InfraReg research agendas, on the regulatory effects of supermarketization, on the regulation of digital infrastructures, and on the decision-making processes behind the public-private partnership law in Argentina.

The second session, chaired by Aishani Gupta (University of Toronto), presented three case studies, useful to reflect on the regulatory effects of infrastructures. First, Sarandha Jain (Columbia University) presented her work on the multi-nodal network of petroleum manufacturing, circulation and use in India, and how it has functioned as a means of social control. Second, Tiana Bakić Hayden (NYU) referred to Mexico’s food system, and explained how its normative structures had been appropriated for uses separate than those intended, reconfiguring or resignifying the infrastructures behind them. And third, Caroline Melly (Smith College) related bottlenecks in Dakar to quite abstract, global processes, and reflected on their impact on the Senegalese society. These presentations were followed by comments from Richard Wilson (UConn), and then by a debate among the participants.

After a lunch break, the discussion shifted to more distinctly legal perspectives in the third panel, chaired by Nahuel Maisley. Geoff Gordon (Asser Institute) first presented a paper on the global infrastructure of standardized time measurement and its governance effects, focusing specifically on UTC (universally coordinated time). Then, Galit Sarfaty (UBC) explored the governance gap presented by the layering and intersection of multiple legal orders in the human rights compliance regimes for supply chains. Finally, Peer Zumbansen (Osgoode Hall) gave comments on these two presentations.

Immediately afterwards, Thomas Streinz chaired a panel on digital technologies as regulatory infrastructures, with a specific focus on blockchain. The session began with a presentation by Andrea Leiter (Melbourne Law School) and Jake Goldenfein (Cornell/Swinburne) on the challenges in the interpretation and enforcement of smart contracts. Then, Tilen Cuk (Centre Perelman) explained the functioning of initial coin offerings (ICOs) and presented some of the problems in their regulation. Finally, Kevin Davis offered some comments, and the participants in the conference joined the conversation.

The last session of the day was dedicated to a more colloquial discussion among the participants, in the intimate NYU Law Faculty Lounge, in Vanderbilt Hall. The discussion, chaired by Paul Mertenskötter, began with presentations by Miriam Ticktin (New School), Harlan G. Cohen (UGA), and Jérôme Sgard (Sciences Po). The participants then reflected on the ideas considered throughout the day, and on their impact for the future of the project, and of their own research agendas.

Day 2: Saturday, 29 September 2018

The second day of the conference took place at another high rise setting, this time with a view to the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center: NYU Law’s Pollack Colloquium Room, in the 9th floor of Furman Hall. The first panel of the day, chaired by Nicolas Lamp (Queen’s University), began with a paper by Alon Jasper (Tel Aviv University) on the challenging features of InfraReg from a democratic perspective. Then, Matthew Canfield (Drake University) presented his ethnographic fieldwork with progressive reformers in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. Canfield framed the ideal networks of local food production and consumption to which these reformers aspired as a “regulatory infrastructure”, and reflected on the unexpected ways in which the relation between this aspiration and the reality could embed existing inequalities. Finally, Stephanie Kane (Indiana University Bloomington) explored the uneven regulatory impacts of the flood control regimes of Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, in central Canada. The panel was closed with comments from Alejandro Rodiles (ITAM), and with a discussion among participants.

The following session, chaired by Tleuzhan Zhunussova (NYU), focused on databases as global regulation. First, Gavin Sullivan (University of Kent) presented a study on the technicalities of the global security regime established by U.N. Security Council resolutions, focusing on the interoperability of the databases developed by the UNSC and the aviation industry in order to implement trave bans. Then, Anna Hanson and Gregoire Mallard (Graduate Institute) surveyed the reaction of banks to the U.S. requests that they installed certain software packages of financial data management (overwhelmingly developed by U.S. vendors) to fight money laundering and prevent terrorism. Finally, Jin Sun (Graduate Institute) gave a paper on global tax databases -such as those enabled by the Common Reporting Standards (CRS) and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)- and their regulatory effects. The session was closed with comments from Gerry Simpson (LSE) and a debate among participants.

After lunch, Katharin Thai (MIT) chaired a session on physical infrastructures for a digital society. The first paper was by Fernanda Ribeiro Rosa (American University), who explained the relevance of internet exchange points as part of the phyiscal infrastructure of the web, and warned, e.g. of their potential exposure to surveillance activities. Then, Alex Reiss-Sorokin (MIT) presented the efforts of companies such as Google and Facebook to innovate in the physical infrastructure realm, exploring new means of internet connectivity, through ballons, drones, and satellites. Lastly, Brett Frischmann (Villanova University) introduced his latest book, “Re-Engineering Humanity”, and connected its ideas to his previous works on the economics of infrastructures. Eyal Benvenisti (Cambridge University) closed the session with comments on these presentations, and then the participants joined in the discussion.

The closing session of the conference was chaired by the project directors, Benedict Kingsbury and Sally Engle Merry. After some closing reflections by Edefe Ojomo (NYU) and Richard Rottenburg (Halle University), the floor was once again open to the participants to discuss the outcomes of the conference and the way forward for the various research agendas.

The full agenda of the conference can be found here.

This conference was part of the IILJ’s ongoing investigation into the regulatory effects of infrastructure. Themes that emerged from this conference will be explored in future InfraReg events. Stay tuned!