Governing 'As If': Global Subsidies Regulation and the Benchmark Problem

32 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2014

See all articles by Andrew T. F. Lang

Andrew T. F. Lang

London School of Economics - Law School

Date Written: May 4, 2014


How have practices of governance-through-knowledge modified themselves in response to a century of critiques of the objectivity of modern science? This article takes inspiration from the work of Jasanoff, Riles, Latour and others to identify a mode of 'governing as if': a pragmatic mode of governance which works not through the production of objective knowledge as the shared epistemic foundation for political settlements, but rather by generating knowledge claims that stabilize social orderings precisely through their self-conscious partiality, contingency, and context-dependence. This argument is developed using the illustration of global subsidies regulation in World Trade Organization law, focusing in particular on the knowledge practices by which particular conceptions of 'the market' are produced and deployed in the course of its operation. The article argues that the standard criticisms of naturalized economic conceptions of the 'free market', developed in various scholarly traditions throughout the 20th century, do not provide an adequate account of economic governance working in an 'as if' mode, either positively or normatively. It further argues, following Riles, that such regimes of governance derive their effectiveness fundamentally from their ‘hollow core’, and that it is in the constant and active work of 'hollowing out' that we are likely to find their characteristic modalities of power and underlying structural dynamics.

Suggested Citation

Lang, Andrew, Governing 'As If': Global Subsidies Regulation and the Benchmark Problem (May 4, 2014). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 12/2014, Available at SSRN: or

Andrew Lang (Contact Author)

London School of Economics - Law School ( email )

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