`Making White Things White': Legal Theory as Ethnographic Subject

Annelise Riles, Cornell Law School


This paper takes as its departure the regulation of "over-the-counter" derivatives markets in Tokyo and specifically the move to create a solution to the enforceability of so-called "netting agreements" in over-the-counter derivatives transactions. Taking this moment of legal reform as its ethnographic subject, the paper demonstrates the limits of instrumentalist explanations of legal projects and highlights new challenges for thinking of legal reform as knowledge. The paper is framed as an engagement with certain epistemological problems in anthropology and related fields concerning the character of so-called modern knowledge. Its focus is on the formal qualities, and hidden possibilities, of new statutory attempts to achieve "transparency" in regulatory practice.