The Law of Society: Governance Through Contract

Peer Zumbansen
Canada Research Chair and Associate Dean (Research, Graduate Studies, and Institutional Relations)
Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

This paper focuses on contract law as a central field in contemporary regulatory practice. In recent years, “governance by contract” has emerged as the central concept in the context of privatization, domestic and transnational commercial relations, and law-and-development projects. Meanwhile, as a result of the neo-formalist attack on contract law, “governance of contract” through contract adjudication, consumer pro-tection law, and judicial intervention into private law relations has come under severe pressure. Building on early historical critique of the formalist foundations of an alleg-edly private law of the market, the paper assesses the current justifications for contrac-tual governance and posits that only an expanded legal realist perspective can adequately explain the complex nature of contractual agreements in contemporary practice. The paper argues for an understanding of contracts as complex societal arrangements that visibilize and negotiate conflicting rationalities and interests.

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