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Williams, Clare (2020) Beyond Embeddedness: Reshaping an Economic Sociology of Law. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Economic Sociology of Law (ESL) is a scholarly response to econo-centric approaches that have dominated debates and policy-making at the intersection of law and economy (the ‘econolegal’) for many decades. ESL challenges the dominance of economics and reintegrates the econolegal into wider multi- and interdisciplinary debates. But ESL is limited by its ongoing commitment to the concept of the “embeddedness” of the economy (and the law) in society. Used with precision, embeddedness can be a valuable relational descriptor of legal, economic and social phenomena. But its explicit and implicit ubiquity means that embeddedness now acts as an unthought rationality, shaping the language we use to speak about the econolegal, and the mental models we use to imagine it. It separates out the economic, legal and social, working against the reintegrative aspirations of ESL and constructivist understandings of social interaction. The result is a constraint on our ability to respond to, and rethink, the current way we do, think and talk about the econolegal. The implications of ESL’s conceptual commitment to embeddedness result in internal inconsistency (“what are we talking about?”) and external incompatibility (“are we entrenching disciplinarity or aspiring to interdisciplinarity?”). These two limitations are explored through three mini case studies: a proposed academic data collection project in Sri Lanka, the World Bank’s Investment Climate policy campaign, and an analysis of econolegal literature directed to a lay audience. Having exposed the inability of embeddedness to fully respond to the real (academic, policy or lay) world, the thesis demonstrates how two conceptual shifts can help ESL to move beyond embeddedness: a shift from actors to interactions, and from embeddedness to feedback loops. These shifts offer a dynamic, flexible framework for talking about econolegal regimes and rationalities; one that is consistent with the sociological orientation, constructivist assumptions and reintegrative goals of ESL.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Amanda Perry-Kessaris and Diamond Ashiagbor
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 20 Apr 2023 11:08

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