Retooling: Techniques for an uncertain world

Professor Annelise Riles, Jack G. Clarke Professor of Far East Legal Studies and Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University

Co-presented with the Centre for Asian-Pacific Law and the Sydney Centre for International Law within the Faculty of Law

11 June

From financial markets, to environmental policy and disaster preparedness, to academic thought, one of the defining features of the moment is our ambivalence about experts and expertise. To the public, as to experts themselves, the world seems highly uncertain, unknowable, uncontrollable, which is to say, expert tools for predicting and regulating the world do not seem to work as they should. Many of the experts I have studied over the last ten years seem to be losing hope in their own techniques, and their sense of their powerlessness to solve problems can lead to cynicism and disengagement.

Yet in my ten years of ethnographic research among one particular group of experts–lawyers working the financial markets–I have observed many subtle but formidable ways of thinking and acting under conditions of profound uncertainty that offer an enticing view of an alternative approach to the role of experts in contemporary political life. In this lecture, I discuss how these subtle techniques can be “retooled” into ways of responding professionally, politically and ethically to the demands of our political moment. I focus in particular on how to build a more transformative dialogue between experts and the broader public.

Professor Annelise Riles

Annelise Riles is the Jack G. Clarke Professor of Law in Far East Legal Studies and Professor of Anthropology at Cornell, and she serves as Director of the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture. Her work focuses on the transnational dimensions of laws, markets and culture across the fields of comparative law, conflict of laws, the anthropology of law, public international law and international financial regulation. Her most recent book, Collateral Knowledge: Legal Reasoning in the Global Financial Markets (Chicago Press 2011) is based on ten years of fieldwork among regulators and lawyers in the global derivatives markets. Her recently co-authored article From Multiculturalism to Technique: Feminism, Culture, and the Conflict of Laws Style (with Karen Knop & Ralf Michaels), 64(3) Stanford Law Review, 589-656 (Mar 2012) concerns what conflict of laws can contribute to theoretical debates about the clash between feminist and multiculturalist norms.