Rule-Intermediaries in Action: How State and Business Stakeholders Influence the Meaning of Consumer Rights in Regulatory Governance Arrangements


The boundaries between public and private actors are increasingly blurred via regulatory governance arrangements and the contracting out of rights enforcement to private organizations. Regulation and governance scholars have not gained enough empirical leverage on how state actors, private organizations, and civil society groups influence the meaning of legal rules in regulatory governance arrangements that they participate in. Drawing from participant observation at consumer law conferences and interviews with stakeholders, my empirical data suggest that consumer rights and, in fact, consumer law, mean different things to different stakeholders tasked with adjudicating consumer rights. Rights afforded consumers who purchase warranties are now largely contingent on first using alternative dispute resolution structures, some created and operated by private organizations with soft state oversight and others run by stakeholders but with greater state oversight and involvement. Using new institutional sociology and regulatory governance theories, I argue that stakeholders involved in overseeing and administering these dispute resolution systems filter the meaning of consumer rights through competing business and consumer logics. Because consumer laws mean different things to stakeholders tasked with adjudicating consumer rights, two different rights regimes simultaneously exist in this field. I conclude that how rule-intermediaries administering private and state-run dispute resolution systems conceptualize what consumer laws mean in action may have implications for regulatory governance and more broadly, consumers’ access to justice.

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