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Dr Paul Anderson

current research

In one way or another, much of my current research focuses on the dangers of the continued erosion of the commons, whether natural or social, and explores means of reclaiming them. At present, my research addresses three such commons:

Are demands for democracy an appropriate response to contemporary global crises?
A case study of climate change

Three problems with global governance

Should institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF be democratised? Among themes in social and political thought on the governance of human affairs that motivate this question, three stand out. The first documents and critiques a continuing re-organisation of society around operations of the market that is effected in part by a deepening fusion of state with private power in the 'structure' of domestic and global governance. The second theme is a common attribution of many of the more significant contemporary crises including much induced global environmental change to this fusion, and recognition that these crises are unlikely to be resolved unless such governance is adequately reformed. This recognition underscores mounting public demand to genuinely democratise the more important structures of governance. The third theme concerns how the fusion of state with private power is protected from popular demands for meaningful reform.

Problems with democratic demands

As important as the need to democratise prevailing structures of governance may appear, current demands for meaningful democratic governance are not unproblematic. Three limitations stand out:

  1. It is often assumed rather than demonstrated that the prevailing structures of governance are implicated in generating, in particular, global environmental change (GEC). Without a clear diagnosis of the causes, for instance, of GEC, it remains unclear which, if any, institutions require reform. This assumption raises questions about the structures of governance most implicated in generating GEC, and specifically, what role (if any) the fusion of state with private power plays.
  2. Even if prevailing structures are implicated in GEC, it does not necessarily follow that genuine democratisation would be any better than prevailing structures, let alone be capable of resolving GEC. At the heart of concerns about democracy are unresolved differences in views on the normative principles that ought to inform the redesign of governance structures implicated in GEC. More generally, there is a tendency to assume, rather than to demonstrate, the merits of democratisation to resolve environmental crises. The absence of such demonstration casts doubts about the relevance of democratisation in this respect. It may also suggest that non-democratic options might be more attractive. Accordingly, inadequate demonstrations of the merits of democracy raise questions concerning whether, and specifically which model(s) of, democracy would in fact be effective.
  3. Finally, even if it can be demonstrated that democratisation would be effective in addressing environmental crises, there remains the question about whether global democracy is in fact possible. In addition to concerns about its feasibility are those about its implementation. For example, there is a paucity of guidance on how in practice to reform prevailing structures of governance, a concern reflected in the mere 'demand' for democracy rather than clear articulation of means by which this is to come about. Furthermore, an ever more 'globalised' world problematises the task of realising the rule by, for and of the people and raises questions about the proper locus of politics and articulation of the public good. In both respects, the complexities of globalisation reinforce a sense that insights into strategic avenues for institutional change remain in short supply.

Research aim

If global environmental crises are to be resolved non-violently, then there is a clear need for guidance. To offer such guidance requires systematically addressing the question of whether or not demands for democracy are an appropriate response to GEC. Building upon seminal work in the field, this research proposes to address the question by examining three constituent research questions (RQs). The first two of these will be addressed in relation to the reported crisis of induced global climate change. The research questions are:

  1. What role, if any, do significant institutions play in generating, or impeding solutions to, climate change? The question will be addressed by identifying, from extant literature, generic features of climate change, of prevailing economic practices and of the implication of the latter in the generation of the former. Of particular concern are two limitations in the literature. The first concerns identification of responsibility for fossil energy overuse and for the decline of natural 'sinks' for greenhouse gas emissions. The second limitation concerns identification of impediments to international efforts to stabilise the climate. Limitations in both respects lie in the comparative neglect (i) of the underlying nature of fossil energy control and (ii) of forms of legal standing such as the private corporation which facilitate and protect that control.
  2. Might an alternative to the prevailing market model of fossil energy governance, namely, a model of democratic control, facilitate the resolution of climate change? If so, which model(s) of democratic governance might best serve this end? Of concern is a dissonance arising from the fact that to advocate democracy is to advocate procedures, yet to advocate sustainability is to advocate an outcome. This is a problem because procedural improvement offers no guarantee that the former procedures will yield the latter outcomes. It is also a problem because the likelihood of achieving that outcome is undermined by excluding substantive matters from decision-making, such as those concerning the nature of key resource control (e.g., fossil energy) and forms of standing which facilitate and augment that control.
  3. If found desirable, how could global democratic institutions be created? The question will be answered by critically assessing leading views on means by which to transform implicated institutions (RQ 1) into genuinely democratic forms of global governance (RQ 2). As supplement to efforts on the direct reform of international institutions and entities, an assessment will be made of one generic avenue for their indirect reform, namely, by adequately democratising states which create and/or maintain those international institutions and entities. This avenue concerns three common but comparatively neglected constitutional sources by which to define the public good. Each of these sources will be assessed in terms of their potential to effect genuine democratic reform:
    1. The first source concerns the allocation of key resource control and use in a manner that avoids collective harm;
    2. The second concerns recognition of standing in a manner that empowers wider participation in social, political and economic life, and by implication curtails concentrations of power which inhibit that participation;
    3. The third prescribes peoples' rights to hold to account states which allocate resource use in a manner conducive to harm ('a') and/or recognise the standing of some in a manner that undermines the self-determination of others ('b').

Addressing these three questions will shed critical light on the need for, and possibility of, global democracy. It will do so in a way that will help remedy the aforementioned limitations of current demands for democracy.


As a theoretical interdisciplinary work, text-based analysis will focus on relevant material identified by library-based data gathering techniques. This primary focus may be supplemented by interviews with key personnel at select intergovernmental organisations. Both methods will be facilitated by prior competence in philosophy, law, political theory and environmental science.


Initial intended outputs include: