Following on from this post of the same title, more speculative notes on social reproduction and law …

By “social reproduction” I mean the maintenance of the structures and roles of society over time as well as the supply of people to fill those roles. Among other things, this includes the continuing existence of labor markets – workplaces and employers – and people in that labor market – job seekers and workers. This is a multi-faceted affair. Among other things, workers have heath needs, housing needs, and safety needs at work. These involve securing or producing/reproducing the physical existence of workers. Workers also need to learn how to do their jobs, how to look for work, how to learn new skills, how to speak, etc. These involve securing or producing/reproducing the social existence of workers. There are also issues of political legitimacy: capitalist society needs to have a significant quantity of people who see society and its institutions as more or less legitimate.

Social reproduction involves all of these categories and more; it’s quite complex, with a variety of overlapping aims and constituencies, sometimes in tension or in contradiction. With regard to legitimacy, since there are mulitiple constituencies with differing interests, one maneuver is multiple, in the sense that it means something different to different people. To put it another way, it takes something different to secure legitimation for one group than for another, because of variation in how groups see themselves, others, their relationships, institutions, society, etc. The complexity of social reproduction means that there’s no single organizing center from which it can all be planned – no room with a group of men in top hats planning everything out. Managing all this requires a distributed or networked process; different institutions manage different priorities. While there’s no single organizing center, it’s important for different institutions or subsystems to relate to each other with a minimum of tension or contradiction.

My sense is that law is important to each of these elements and priorities. Among other things, law is simultaneously a way to set, evaluate, and modify priorities for and the performance of particular institutions or subsystems; a way for institutions to interface with each other with some measure of coherence; a way to resolve disputes among institutions; a way to determine higher ordering principles and priorities in order to help institutions be in line with each other; and a way to legitimize institutions and society for various constituencies.

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