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Kean Birch, Contract, Contract Law, and their Implications for Neoliberalism as a Concept

by Gareth Bryant on February 5, 2017

Kean Birch (York University, Canada)

Title: Contract, Contract Law, and their Implications for Neoliberalism as a Concept

Abstract: Contractual relations underpin markets, although different analytical perspectives define contracts in very different ways: e.g. economists define contract as ‘reciprocal arrangements’ while lawyers define contract as ‘legally enforced promises’. This difference highlights a contradiction underlying neoliberalism as a concept, namely the emphasis on neoliberalism as a market-based order in which markets are installed as the main – or only – institution for organizing and coordinating society. In contrast, the history and evolution of contract law (in common law regimes like the UK and USA) illustrates the extent to which economic relations are configured by ‘contracts’ (in the legal sense) as opposed to ‘markets’. Contract law has moved through several different approaches, leading to the current prevailing system which has dominated since the 1990s. As part of this so-called ‘anti-antiformalism’ perspective, the legal system has ended up both making and unmaking markets and market actors through the institution of contractual arrangements (e.g. standard contracts) and contractual assumptions (e.g. sophistication of market actors). As a result, for example, only certain social actors (e.g. business entities, professional groups) are deemed to be, legally speaking, also market actors. This has implications for how we understand neoliberalism as a concept and its political-economic implications more broadly.

When: Thursday 9 February, 4:00-5.30pm

Where: Darlington Centre Boardroom

Gareth Bryant
Gareth Bryant is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney.
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