Race as a Technology of Global Economic Governance

This Article offers an account of the role of race in global political economy—in particular, how to understand racialization as part of the process by which institutions of economic hierarchy not only were created but continue to be legitimated. It offers the conception of race as a technology: the product of racialized forms of knowing, which serve the practical goal of maintaining and legitimating hierarchy, in particular in the context of political economy. The Article begins by considering the monumental scope of related work that has gone before, both within the legal academy and in other scholarly disciplines. It then offers a few narratives of key dimensions of the contemporary global economy—commodity production and labor migration—and a reflection on the international legal doctrines and institutions that maintain these phenomena as indicia of economic inequality. It concludes by considering race as a technology of global economic governance. The conception of race as a technology of global economic governance highlights multiple connections between racialization, law, and global political economy: race as a technology of empirics, in which racial categories purported to be based on empirical knowledge; race as a technology of legal rule, in which laws and institutions helped to shape, as well as enforced, the identity constructs purportedly rooted in empirical knowledge; and race as a technology of economic allocation and production, itself dependent on the knowledge and practice of the technologies of empirics and legal rule, in which one’s racial identity has directly influenced one’s place in global chains of production and consumption.

About the Author

Radice Family Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Cornell University Law School. This Article has benefited immeasurably from the opportunity to dialogue and workshop ideas with many colleagues, including those at the Berkeley Refugee and Migration Law Workshop, December 2019; the SUNY Buffalo Workshop on Law and Political Economy, October 2019; the University of Texas Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice “Beyond Inequality” Workshop, October 2019; the UCLA Promise Institute for Human Rights Symposium on Critical Perspectives on Race and Rights, February 2019; and the Harvard Institute for Global Law and Policy Workshop on Rethinking Trade and Investment Law, April 2018. Errors are of course mine alone.