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Economic sociology, in particular, a Polanyian critique of political economy, has facilitated an understanding of markets as social and political constructs. To this, economic sociology of law, in undertaking a sociological analysis of the role of law in economic life, enables us to appreciate law’s constitutive role in markets and other forms of economic activity.

What is missing, however, is an analysis of the role of colonialism, race or racial capitalism in the construction of labour markets of the global North. Drawing on Chakrabarty (2000), Holmwood (2016) and Bhambra & Holmwood (2018) this paper explores the central place of colonialism and colonial legal form in the historic, and ongoing, construction of labour law and liberal welfare states. Its arguments are three-fold. First, the paper posits that the redistributive welfare states of the global North and the ability of these industrialized states to embed the market through social transfers and welfare state regimes, was made possible through the extraction of raw commodities and the commodification of the labour power from the global South. Second, the paper develops the claim that the legal technologies governing work in the context of settler colonialism and classic (extractive or trade) colonialism have contemporary resonances in modern labour regulation, given that labour, even where waged and governed by contract rather than status, is still marked by coercive, hierarchical and racialized social and economic relations. Third, using the example of the UK labour market, the paper explores racial differences in labour market location, in particular, the clustering of ethnic minority workers in informal and precarious work falling outside the scope of employment protection law, to illustrate continuities and contemporary instantiations of the racialized segmentation of the labour market.

Diamond Ashiagbor is an interdisciplinary legal scholar whose work spans labour, development, economic sociology of law, and law and the humanities. She teaches and researches on labour law, trade and development, regional integration (the European Union and the African Union), human rights, equality and multiculturalism. She has recently edited the collection, Re-imagining labour law for development: informal work in the global North and South, 2019. Diamond is Professor of Law at the University of Kent and was previously Professor of Labour Law at SOAS University of London. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford (BA) and the European University Institute (PhD) and was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford (IECL and Worcester College). Diamond has been the recipient of a US-EU Fulbright Research Award; a Fernand Braudel Senior Fellowship; and a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship. She has held visiting positions at Columbia Law School, Melbourne Law School, and Osgoode Hall. She is a member of the editorial board of Feminist Legal Studies, the London Review of International Law, and of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Advisory Board.