New Grant Award on Epistemic Jurisdiction

September 7th, 2013  |  Published in Latest news, Research highlights

Prof. David Winickoff has been awarded an NSF grant for a multiyear study on the politics of science in complex regulatory regimes. Grounded in the fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and law, this project aims to conduct a comparative study of the role of science and expertise in the global regulation of biofuels and geoengineering. The goals of this project are to (a) produce generalizable knowledge about how science operates within complex (multi-level and multi-sector) regulatory architectures for emerging technologies and (b) help conceptualize and evaluate the legitimacy of regulatory science within these evolving regimes.

Intellectual Merit

There is growing awareness among scholars and policymakers that global governance is moving away from international treaty structures to complex, pluralist, and fragmented ones. While work in STS and other fields has looked at the role of science in global institutions, less is known about the role of science in the forms of complex or “polycentric” governance that are common today. This is an important gap. In these complex arrangements, regulatory science and diverse forms of technical reasoning move across levels of government and span the private and public sectors. In the process––through expertise, technical assessment frameworks, metrics and indicators––regulatory science is underwriting legal jurisdiction, reshaping political rights, and redistributing critical resources. This project will study regulatory science in the governance arenas of biofuels and geoengineering, where the stakes of local action can have significant material geopolitical effects, and where the terms of democratic participation at different governance levels remain unclear. Regulatory science is deeply implicated in both cases, where the methods of calculating risk, the certification of certain knowledge brokers, and the power to validate knowledge help drive policy frames, regulate access to power, and distribute resources across political groupings. These regimes are at different stages of development, yet each is currently developing greater multi-level complexity amidst top-down failures to address climate change. Understanding what ideals of democratic governance mean amidst scientific and institutional complexity requires deeper empirical and theoretical work. As a whole, the grant will enrich existing accounts of the role of expertise in global governance and produce policy relevant ideas in the arenas of biofuels and geoengineering. Synthesizing intellectual approaches from STS and law, this work promises to develop sharper theoretical tools for understanding the interrelated dimensions of legal jurisdiction, scientific authority, and democratic governance.

Broader impacts

This project is expected to have immediate and longer-term impacts. First, it responds to an urgent need for good public policy on the governance of biofuels and geoengineering, and will provide tangible ideas for improving the legitimacy of administrative process in both arenas. Second, and on a longer time scale, the project promises to provide a more systematic understanding of science and democracy that is expected to advance relevant academic fields and provide useful resources for policymakers. Addressing formidable global problems––e.g. climate change and biodiversity loss; infectious disease and food safety; draught and desertification; persistent chemical pollutants––will necessarily involve distributed forms of regulation that require the effective and legitimate operation of technical reason. This research will hopefully provide a deeper analytic and practical toolkit to address that challenge. Third, in developing democratic norms of representation and accountability, the grant will help empower groups that suffer from geographic and socioeconomic under-representation within distributed regulatory processes. Finally, the project will build human capital and infrastructure by training graduate students and a postdoctoral fellow, and strengthening academic and policy networks across nations.

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