[New publication] Constitutions of value - Law, governance, and political ecology

Published 16 January 2023

Shutterstock - Volunteers cleaning the ocean cast in Mauritius after an oil spill. 


Global value production and transnational value practices that rely on exploitation and extraction have left us with toxic commons and a damaged planet. The new book ‘Constitutions of Value - Law, Governance, and Political Ecology’ (Routledge, 2023), edited by Isabel Feichtner (University of Würzburg) and Geoff Gordon (Asser Institute) examines law’s fundamental role in institutions of value production and valuation. The book asks: What has value, what does not and could value perhaps be re-valued?  

Ineffective climate packages raise the question whether we must helplessly stand by whilst economic value production leads to the destruction of what we value as society. But it can be difficult to pinpoint what we are talking about when we talk about value(s). In the sometimes-fierce debate on the EU’s ‘fundamental values’, the word value often figures as a placeholder for other concepts such as rule of law, democracy or individual rights, while the far right organises itself and justifies its politics with ‘a defence of values’. In the discipline of economics, it is usually price that counts, whereas a value discourse is also prominent in debates on new modes of governance, surveillance and economic surplus extraction enabled by technological change. But authors Van den Meerssche and Gordon note that the EU’s White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, which has promised to regulate the ‘development and deployment of AI’ in a manner that reflects “European values” … largely comes down to procedural data protection standards and ethical guidelines.”

Law is complicit
Written by an interdisciplinary team of cutting-edge scholars, the book ‘Constitutions of Value - Law, Governance, and Political Ecology’ addresses legal constitutions of value. As law is complicit in sustaining and disguising unequal power relations through privileging, facilitating, and reproducing certain values and certain forms of value production, the book asks: What has value, what does not and could value perhaps be re-valued?

New value practices
Using pathbreaking theoretical approaches, the authors problematise mainstream efforts to redeem institutions of value production by recoupling them with progressive values. Aiming beyond radical critique, the book opens up the possibility of imagining and enacting new and different value practices.
As editors Feichtner and Gordon write in their introduction: “Practices of value production and valuation shape and make worlds. They also unmake worlds, have severe destructive effects and lie at the heart of today’s interlocking crises. (…) “The worlds produced by current value practices are dystopian: they are characterised by violence, extraction and destruction that have taken us to the verge of global ecological and societal collapse. A project invested in change, therefore, must address value. Against the background of an analysis of the worldmaking effects of value, the reconfiguration of value becomes unavoidable and key to social-ecological transformation and a democratisation of society.

This wide-ranging and accessible book will appeal to international lawyers, socio-legal scholars, those working at the intersections of law and economy and others, in politics, economics, environmental studies and those who are concerned with rethinking our current ideas of what has value, what does not, and whether and how value may be revalued.

Constitutions of Value                                              
Law, Governance, and Political Ecology

Edited ByIsabel Feichtner, Geoff Gordon
Published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis)
Read the open access version.

Read more
The symposium Constitutions of Value, led by Prof. Isabel Feichtner (University of Würzburg) and Dr Geoff Gordon (Asser Institute) examines the ways in which value is (co-)constituted, structured and shaped by law, together with politics, economics, science and technology. Its aim is to advance the understanding of how legally co-constituted value and value practices make and unmake society, and how as lawyers we can put that knowledge to work for change. Read more.

About Geoff Gordon
Senior researcher Geoff Gordon holds a PhD from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a JD from Columbia Law School. His work is motivated by a critical concern for international practices in the public interest. He has a background in litigation and an interdisciplinary academic grounding in questions raised at points of interface among politics, security, economy and technology.

Geoff is the coordinator of the Asser Institute research strand ‘Public interest(s) inside/within international and European institutions and their practices’, which examines how public interests shape, and are shaped in the institutional practices of international and European courts, such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Researchers have a keen eye for how emerging technologies intervene in these practices, and with what implications.