JSP Scope

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Eric Feldman '94 and the Law of the Tuna

In the March 2006 issue of the California Law Review, JSP alum and Penn law professor Eric Feldman does for the tuna of Tokyo's famed Tsukiji fish auction what Professor Robert Ellickson did years ago for Shasta County's cattle, transformed them into enduring icons of legal studies as a field, destined to anchor in the minds of generations of Phd qualifying exam takers, whole bodies of social and legal theory. While often headless and tale-less, these fish are, as rendered by Feldman, quite unforgettable. Captured in beautiful color photographs by Feldman (perhaps a law review first, I'm not sure) and described in rich ethnographic narrative, the tuna open themselves to us, revealing law to have invested even their internal flesh. While Ellickson's cattle have come to represent the universal appeal of informal coordination without law, Feldman's tuna will enter the stream of academic debate as markers for the prolix and productive nature of formal legal institutions. For while the players in the Tsukiji fish auction are classic repeat players with apparently easy access to informal resolutions, the auction has evolved a highly efficient and practical but undeniably formal court institution to resolve disputes over tuna sold at auction. Rather than a costly mechanism which produces discontent for both winners and losers, the tuna court has evolved to resolve disputes at a low cost to all participants while reinforcing the shared confidence in their common technical expertise which ultimately binds the tuna buyers and brokers.