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Law as a Vehicle for Social Change: Mainstreaming Non-Extractive Economic Practices

Amsterdam Center for Transformative Private Law

Prof. Dr. Marija Bartl recently received the ERC Starting Grant for a project titled: 'Law as a Vehicle for Social Change: Mainstreaming Non-Extractive Economic Practices'.

  • Name of the Principal Investigator (PI): Dr. Marija Bartl
  • Name of the PI's host institution for the project: Amsterdam Center for Transformative Private Law, Faculty of Law, University of Amsterdam
  • Proposal duration in months: 60
  • Start 1st May 2020

Proposal summary

The current economic model is overdue for revision. Environmentally and socially, its extractive tendencies are profound. The relentless focus on economic growth is ravaging the environment, while the concomitant social problems have either already reached glaring levels (rocketing global inequality) or seem poised to do so (climate displaced persons). Both the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement recognize the need to alter the course of global economic development. Yet major disagreement persists as to how to achieve these objectives. Those favoring variants of ‘green growth’ or a ‘green new deal’ hope that increases in energy and waste efficiency, along with an appropriate mix of ‘tax and transfer’, will prove sufficient to address the socio-ecological problems (e.g. European Green Party). Others suggest that a more radical transformation of the economic system is needed, problematizing the concept of ‘growth’ itself, and looking for ways to pursue prosperity for all without relying on unsustainable economic growth (Jackson 2009; Raworth 2017; Hinton, J. and Maclurcan 2015; PostGrowth Conference, European Parliament, 2018).

Yet both sets of proposals face problems of their own: while a growing body of evidence suggests that growth, however green or ‘decoupled’, is still going to push us beyond the planetary boundaries (Hickel 2018), the more radical proposals, which require fundamental shifts in our ways of living and modes of production, appear hopelessly utopian in the face of contemporary socio-economic realities. The difficulty with this constellation is, however, that while the former approaches enjoy the benefit of appearing achievable from within the status quo – the more radical proposals for socio-ecological transformation may present the only genuinely effective response to the challenges we face. An especially grim impasse.

The N-EXTLAW project grapples with the question of how to make the radical proposals for socio-ecological transformation a more credible contender for political support and mobilization. Recognizing in this regard the role of law in the attainment of the economic utopias of the past (Polanyi 2002), N-EXTLAW will explore how law could contribute to closing the perceived gap between today’s realities and such more utopian visions of economy, taking as a point of departure those existing economic practices that already embody the values of non-extractive economy. By ‘non-extractive’ we mean economic practices that are generative – rather than depleting – of the very resources on which they depend, be they environmental (e.g. substances, environment) or social (e.g. labour, localities, communities of users). The aim of this project is thus to answer the question: how can law support the proliferation of non-extractive economic practices – and thus make socio-ecological transformation a more believable prospect?