Reframing ways of doing, talking, and thinking about legal and economic phenomena

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Kent Law School


The way we talk matters. The words, frames and concepts that shape our dialogue also shape our responses to events like the financial crisis of 2008, the current environmental crisis, and pandemic (Lakoff, 2014). The vocabulary available to talk about, think about, and do legal and economic aspects of interactions is deeply important, but often overlooked. A striking contemporary example of the importance one word can play is "embeddedness". My research traces the history of the concept of embeddedness from Polanyi's "always embedded economy" (Polanyi, 1944). I examine Granovetter's accidental revival of the concept in 1985, before exploring its incarnation as the "core concept" of scholarly lenses like economic sociology of law (ESL) and the current confusion surrounding it (Granovetter, 1985; Krippner et al., 2004). I then turn to contemporary popular literature published in response to the financial crisis which frequently states that the economy is either "obviously embedded" in society (Raworth, 2018), or that society has become embedded in the economy and its regulation (Earle et al., 2017).

The implication is that it is in part due to the separation between law, economy and society that we failed to predict and respond effectively to the crisis. In this way, the concept of embeddedness offers us a convenient hook on which we can hang the problems of the relationships between law, economics and society. But in reality it is confused and ambiguous. Are law and economy embedded in society, or is society embedded in law and economy? Moreover, the ongoing commitment to the concept of embeddedness stifles innovative reframing of the role of legal and economic phenomena. The concept of embeddedness re-entrenches existing ways of doing, talking and thinking and the neoclassical and doctrinal origins and implications of these frames. This is important because it prevents us from appraising which voices, values and interests we wish to prioritise. To reframe, we need new ways of doing, talking and thinking about legal and economic phenomena that move us beyond current frames and current conceptual commitments to embeddedness. Using concepts from law, economics, sociology, anthropology, linguistics and psychology, I propose one way of moving beyond embeddedness. By focusing on interactions rather than actors, and feedback loops rather than embeddedness, we can develop new ways of talking about legal and economic phenomena that can highlight and value diverse voices and interests. Instead of focusing on growth, what if we were able to prioritise equality, equity, sustainability and/or justice?

The originality of my work lies not only in its content but in its communication. Specifically, it seeks to build upon emergent scholarship around the application of design-based methods in sociolegal research which argue that 'designerly ways', in particular the emphasis on communication, experimentation and making things visible and tangible, are especially suited to addressing sociolegal concerns (Perry and
Perry-Kessaris, 2019; Perry-Kessaris, 2020, 2017). Words are inherently limited in their capacity to challenge dominant frames and "ways of knowing" (Cross, 1982). So I will use visual methods to critically explore the concept of embeddedness and its possible alternatives, specifically digital art, graphic design, 3D computer modelling and animations. In this way I will employ the "Carlsberg effect" (Bernstein et al., 2015) of reaching the places that words cannot, and the subconscious voices and interests therein, and generate innovative and interactive ways of engaging wider audiences beyond academia. As a result, the proposed project combines ground-breaking research in sociolegal methods and concepts with cutting edge means of engagement that seeks out impact beyond the university through increased awareness and understanding of the importance of how we frame the legal and economic (Reed, 2018).


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