Constitutionalizing in the Anthropocene

(Banner photo by Kees Bastmeijer)

The purpose of this project to explore the challenges of constitutionalization and governance in the Anthropocene era. It will re-imagine law’s conceptual foundations for the Anthropocene, articulate them in regulatory modalities that can be legitimate and effectively manage risk, and propose institutional architectures that are capable of responding to and altering the complexities of human interactions with earth systems, which, if left unchecked, will have potentially catastrophic results for future generations.

Introducing the project

Catastrophic environmental degradation is the most urgent global challenge for humanity today. In the era of the Anthropocene, a geological period wherein humans have altered atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes to such a degree, our Holocenenic legal frameworks have proven demonstrably inadequate to manage the risks that it entails. 

Indeed, the scale of the changes posed by the Anthropocene are so great that they are destabilizing how we distinguish Nature from culture, global from local, public from private, distinctions that have ordered global human society until now. Distressingly little thought has been given to the legal implications of the transformations that the Anthropocene is demanding of us.

Research questions

The project pursues the following three primary research questions:

  1. How do the conditions of the Anthropocene affect, conceptually and normatively, the legal subjectivity of nature and future generations within democratic decision-making, and, epistemologically, the political, scientific and legal modes of representation through which the legitimacy and effectiveness of regulatory and legal governance is evaluated?
  2. Which emergent regulatory technologies constitute legitimate instruments in the Anthropocene, and which accountability frameworks are necessary for managing their effective, yet potentially destructive, capabilities?
  3. Which governance structures are capable of facilitating reflexive and responsive governance in the Anthropocene, and what new forms of political and legal representation are available in such structures?

Project components

In order to answer these questions, the project is composed of three strands of research concerning:

Conceptual and foundational transformations

The first strand is devoted to exploring the conditions in which new forms of collective decision-making, including the creation of personhood for Nature and future generations, can be realized, and the normative and epistemological implications of such transformation in modes of representation.

Technologies and modalities of regulation

The second strand focuses on questions of accountability, effectiveness and regulatory oversight as they relate to emergent technologies – from genetically-modified insects to fake meat to climate engineering – that are developed to alter environments and our impact on them.

Institutional architectures and complexity

Finally, this third stream engages with transformations required within the institutions of governance, including the representation of new forms of political and legal personhood can be secured and the optimum organization of institutional structures for facilitating reflexive and responsive governance.

You can download an elaborated description of our project here.

Upcoming events at Tilburg Law School

20 May, 2021 Climate Justice and the Business of Energy Transition (held during TILTing Perspectives 2021 Conference)

24 June, 2021

Urban Climate Resilience: The Role of Law


Related projects at Tilburg University

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