WWS Calendar

Law-Engaged Graduate Student Seminar with Haris A. Durrani: Access Scarcity - A Manifesto

Oct 16, 2019 12:00PM to 01:20PM
Wallace Hall
348 Wallace


Restricted to Princeton graduate students, faculty, and fellows
Haris A. Durrani, Program in History of Science, Department of History

Program in Law and Public Affairs

Graduate students, fellows, and faculty only, please.
Each seminar features law-related papers or practice job talks presented by graduate students from many disciplines.

RSVP requested for lunch: https://lapa.princeton.edu/content/access-scarcity-manifesto

From Haris: Skeptics of Garrett Hardin's "tragedy of the commons" have shown how scarcity is often a socially-constructed epistemological category or technologically-made material artifact. In these accounts, the central problem is not scarcity but distribution. The solution to scarcity, then, is often a legal prescription: Rewrite property rights regimes in order to redistribute the uneven arrangement of a commons. Paradoxically, this standard rebuttal tacitly agrees with Hardin’s fundamental contention that problems of scarcity require legal and political, not technical, solutions. This prioritization of legal solutions elides the material conditions that bar access to resources in the first place. Legal scholars have dedicated less attention to legal solutions that govern not only a resource or its users, but the means of access to the resource. In other words, in the classic example of the English pasture, what about the hedges or fences that surround or enclose a commons, not as epistemological markers of property rights or sovereignty—infringement of which a legal system purports to deter, punish, or remedy—but rather as technologically constructed or naturally occurring material conditions that limit access? I argue that legal solutions to commons problems must more directly treat access as a resource, and thus as a material object that can be made scarce. This approach focuses legal solutions on the material conditions of access and the associated “socio-technical systems,” including legal systems themselves, that modulate access. Such a move requires the synthesis of legal and technical expertise, rather than Hardin’s disavowal of the latter for the former. Indeed, it is high time that legal academics partner with experts in technical fields in order to articulate a “techno-legal” theory that “governs the hedges.” This manifesto makes a foray in that direction by developing the concept of “access scarcity.”

Contact Leslie Gerwin, lgerwin@princeton.edu for additional information.