Boilerplate reviewed in The Wall Street Journal

The overload of tiny text in the Terms of Service Agreement is for most people just a blur of words that they don’t take the time to read. Most people I know bypass the reading and head straight for the little square box next to the words “I agree to the terms and conditions” without thinking twice. In Margaret Jane Radin’s book Boilerplate, she examines how these fine print service agreements or boilerplate contracts might seem very little but can have a big impact. Boilerplate contracts threaten rights that people would otherwise be entitled to if they had not agreed to the terms of services agreement. They are not real contracts at all and actually degrade the moral basis of contract law.

The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed Boilerplate and called it “[A] sophisticated and thought-provoking treatment of the boilerplate contracts that everyone signs yet few read or understand.”

Read the full review here and read Boilerplate, and maybe even read the terms of service agreement the next time you buy music or rent an apartment.

In the News: Affirmative Action Supreme Court Case

What’s appearing to be the most controversial U.S. Supreme Court case of this term took place this Wednesday, October 10. Are affirmative action programs beneficial or downright unlawful? Opponents of affirmative action claim that public universities are actively practicing illegal discrimination when considering race as a factor for admission. In 2003, the Supreme Court said that affirmative action may prove necessary for the next quarter of a century to guarantee that university classrooms would reflect the vast racial diversity of the United States. Wednesday, the court questioned the racial preferences used by the University of Texas to achieve student diversity in their college admission processes and are currently reconsidering that 2003 decision.

William G. Bowen & Derek Bok’s 2000 book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions brings a wealth of empirical evidence to bear on how race-sensitive admissions policies actually work and clearly defines the effects they have had on over 45,000 students of different races. Similarly, Thomas J. Espenshade & Alexandria Walton Radford’s No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life pulls back the curtain on the selective college experience and takes a rigorous and comprehensive look at how race and social class impact each stage—from application and admission, to enrollment and student life on campus.

Check out the Preface to The Shape of the River or read the Introduction to No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal and share with us your opinions on this highly controversial case.

Timur Kuran and The Long Divergence featured in the Boston Globe

Timur Kuran, author of Islam and Mammon and The Long Divergence is featured in a piece by Thanassis Cambanis about the effects of Islamic law on economies. Cambanis writes:

“Has the Islamic world been held back by its treatment at the hands of history? Or could the roots of the problem lie in its shared religion—in the Koran, and Islamic belief itself?

A provocative new answer is emerging from the work of Timur Kuran, a Turkish-American economist at Duke University and one of the most influential thinkers about how, exactly, Islam shapes societies. In a growing body of work, Kuran argues that the blame for the Islamic world’s economic stagnation and democracy deficit lies with a distinct set of institutions that Islamic law created over centuries. The way traditional Islamic law handled finance, inheritance, and incorporation, he argues, held back both economic and political development. These practices aren’t inherent in the religion—they emerged long after the establishment of Islam, and have partly receded from use in the modern era. But they left a profound legacy in many societies where Islam held sway.”

The entire article is available on

Gabriella Coleman featured in Fast Company

With the exponentially growing importance of the internet, hacking is quickly becoming a subject worthy of study in an anthropological setting. Gabriella Coleman was interviewed by Adam Bluestein of Fast Company and discussed how exactly she gravitated toward studying hacking and digital activism, her fascination with the hacker collective Anonymous, and the introduction of hacker culture as an acceptable subject for an anthropology major. Gabriella’s forthcoming book is called Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking and addresses some of these topics.

Read the entire interview here!

‘Blind Spots’ author Max Bazerman discusses the Sandusky trial on WNYC’s The Takeaway

Max Bazerman, co-author of Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It (along with Ann Tenbrunsel) appeared on WNYC’s The Takeaway to discuss the trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. You can listen to the interview below.

David Scheffer in the UK

David Scheffer author of ‘All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals’ was in London this week and spoke at Chatham House. An audio recording of his talk is now available on their website. His trip coincided with the conviction on Wednesday 14th March of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in what was the first verdict delivered by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (please scroll down to 0824 for the clip) he was interviewed about this and the relationship of the United States to the court.

David Scheffer in Europe

David Scheffer, author of the recently published ‘All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals’ will be touring Europe from 12 – 24 March, speaking in London, The Hague, Berlin, Cologne, Vienna, Budapest, Sarajevo and Brussels.  While in London he will be talking at the Society for Oriental and African Studies on 12th March and at Chatham House on 13 March.  Both these events are free and open to the public so please follow the links if you would like to sign up. For more detailed information on any of the other events in Europe please contact Caroline Priday or @crpriday

Timur Kuran: Upcoming events in Princeton and NYC!

Timur Kuran, author of The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, has two events coming up later this month in Princeton and NYC. Kuran, a professor of economics and political science at Duke University, published The Long Divergence in 2010.  Read an extract from the book’s first chapter here!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012: Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

4:30 p.m in Jones 100 (campus map)

Free and open to the public

The Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia presents Timur Kuran:

“Structural Inefficiencies of Islamic Courts: Ottoman Justice and Its Implications for Modern Economic Life”

More information about the event here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012: The American Turkish Society, New York, NY
6:30 – 8:00 PM
305 East 47th Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10017

Free for members, $25 for non-members

Register for the event here, or read the full announcement!

Margot Canaday’s “The Straight State” wins the 2012 Order of the Coif Biennial Book Award

Margot Canaday’s brilliant book The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America has won the 2012 Order of the Coif Biennial Book Award.

 “The Order of the Coif is an honorary scholastic society the purpose of which is to encourage excellence in legal education by fostering a spirit of careful study, recognizing those who as law students attained a high grade of scholarship, and honoring those who as lawyers, judges and teachers attained high distinction for their scholarly or professional accomplishments.”

 This is Margot Canaday’s SEVENTH award for The Straight State. Some of the other accolades include the 2011 John Boswell Prize, the 2010 Cromwell Book Prize, the Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize, the Gladys M. Kammerer Award, and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Studies.

Biella Coleman, guest blogging at Concurring Opinions

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, we will publish an ethnography of hackers from Biella Coleman. So it is fairly serendipitous that I found her introductory post to a series of articles she is writing for the Concurring Opinions blog (well serendipitous in the sense that her editor sent me the link ;). I hope you will check our her posts over the next month.

I would like to thank Danielle Citron for the invitation to pen some thoughts here on Concurring Opinions, and letting an anthropologist enter this legal arena. For my first post, I thought I would ease in slowly and give a taste of my work on hackers, geeks, and digital activism along with some of the themes and issues I will likely explore over the month.

Being there are not a whole lot of anthropologists of my ilk ( as I like to joke, I am an “arm chair anthropologist” who sits in front of her computer to study the high tech digerati of the west), I often get asked how or why I came to the study hackers, many people assuming that I had some hacker relative in my life or was myself a budding young hacker, both of which were not the case. Fitting to this blog, I got to hackers via the law. In 1997, when my friend—an avid free software developer—found out I had a keen but personal interest in patents and access to medicine, he sat me down to tell be about this legal concept called the “copyleft.” It was one of those moments that I still remember so vividly as I was nothing but floored, astonished, excited, and puzzled, especially when I learned of the full depth and extent of this legal alternative that had been dreamed up, not by lawyers, but by geeks and hackers.


Read more here:

Q&A with Duke political science prof Ruth Grant on the murky ethics of incentives

We are pleased to have just published Duke political science professor Ruth W. Grant’s fascinating new book about the uses–and abuses–of incentives called STRINGS ATTACHED: Untangling the Ethcis of Incentives. Her new book is a must-read for every politician, businessperson, and manager.

STRINGS ATTACHED is co-published with the Russell Sage Foundation and they have recently conducted a terrific Q&A with Ruth on the book and her work

Q: When you consider the controversies that currently dominate the political debate, the use of incentives isn’t high on the list. People seem more vexed about policies like the health care mandate or income taxes than, say, the use of a tax deduction to encourage charitable donations. Why did you become interested in the use of incentives as a form of power, and why do you think we should talk about them more?

A: I think that I have always been uncomfortable with certain kinds of incentives in my own experience; for example, incentives in the workplace that undermined team spirit or incentives in my child’s classroom that really made her feel manipulated. Other incentives don’t bother me at all. I began to notice that incentives have become the preferred tool of policy in all kinds of settings – governments, businesses, schools, prisons, hospitals – and it seemed important to think through which uses of incentives are innocuous and which are not. The fact that we have invented a new verb – “to incentivize” – is an indication of how much this approach has seeped into the culture. “To incentivize” is a much narrower concept than “to motivate,” which includes incentives, inspiration, arousing curiosity, etc. Something is lost if we automatically consider only incentives when we want to influence people. It seems important to discuss these issues precisely because incentives are pervasive, but also taken for granted.


Criminologist Federico Varese on “Is Burma the Next Mexico?”

Princeton University Press author and University of Oxford criminologist Federico Varese has published an op-ed on’s The Great Debate blog describing his recent research trip to Myanmar and the surrounding area. He wanted to see the opium trade and its effects on the local population. His work has led to the question “Is Burma the next Mexico?”  For a good read, check out Varese’s MAFIAS ON THE MOVE: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories

Hillary Clinton had many “hard issues” to tackle during her recent visit to Myanmar. Yet there was no mention of one of the most, if not the most, difficult issue Burma faces: their lucrative drug trade.

Northern Burma is the home of the “Golden Triangle,” a hub for opium production and the location of hundreds of heroin and amphetamine refineries. So how do political leaders and the international community plan to tackle this problem in the event that Burma truly becomes a democratic country?

To read more, continue to