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In the Mirror: The Legitimation Work of Globalization

  • Susan Bibler Coutin, Bill Maurer and Barbara Yngvesson


This essay examines the legitimation work of globalization by bringing into dialogue the authors' research on immigration, finance, and intercountryadoption. It is concerned with the practices that produce, define, and preclude both movement and connection, such as “naturalizing” some border crossings while criminalizing others; denying the histories and policies that allow some parents to “choose” babies while others must abandon them; and challenging the practices through which small states tweak transnational financial systems while allowing multinational corporations privileges denied small states. Legitimation work (re)configures jurisdictionality, transparency, and sovereignty–the constructs on which debates over globalization's consequences hinge. Examining how these constructs order, include, and exclude persons, goods, and practices sheds light on the boundaries, slippages, and connections between the legitimate and the illegitimate within global processes.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence to Susan Bibler Coutin, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, School of Social Ecology, University of California—Irvine, Irvine, Calif. 92697. Phone: (949) 824-1447; fax: (949) 824-3001; e-mail:


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We would like to thank Carol Greenhouse, Jane Collier, and Boa Santos for their comments on an earlier draft of this essay. Heinz Klug and Carol Greenhouse also provided thought-provoking remarks at the Law and Society Association session that gave rise to this essay. Our conversations with Tom Boellstorff have been invaluable throughout. The anonymous reviewers for Law and Social Inquiry provided critical commentary and useful suggestions for revision. We are grateful to the International Institute for the Sociology of Law for sponsoring our visit there in July 2000. Susan Coutin's research regarding immigration from El Salvador to the United States was funded by two National Science Foundation grants, awards number SBR-9423023 and number SES-0001890. Bill Maurer's research on offshore finance and alternative currencies has been supported by the National Science Foundation Law and Social Science program, award number SES-9818258; and by Global Peace and Conflict Studies and the School of Social Sciences at the University of California at Irvine. Barbara Yngvesson's work regarding transnational adoption was funded by NSF award number SBR-9511937, as well as by faculty development grants from Hampshire College. Finally, we are particularly indebted to the individuals, groups, and institutions that participated in the research projects on which this essay is based.



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