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Democratic Governance and Reflexive Theory of Collective Action

Research project P6/06 (Research action P6)

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The IAP VI research constitutes the third stage in the project of developing a reflexive theory of democratic governance, the two former stages of which were IAP IV and IAP V. This project seeks to advance the current research in the theory of governance by paying specific attention to the conditions of the learning operation which is required for the success (both in terms of efficiency and in terms of legitimacy) of the governance of collective action. The research will seek to identify these conditions ; and it will draw the institutional implications of the resulting understanding of the requirements of a reflexive theory of democratic governance. Thus, the research will be deployed at two levels.

At a first level, we seek to bring the theory of reflexive governance one step further. Recent developments in the theory of governance and especially, the "experimentalist and pragmatist" approach to governance, have demonstrated the gain of grounding such a theory on a the pragmatist insight that knowledge consists in an active transformation of the world. Our objective is to build on these results by deepening the pragmatist reading of theory of collective action and by highlighting the "reflexive nature" of the learning operation which is at the core of every collective action, focusing specifically on the internal conditions enabling actors to choose the most adequate course of action in regard to their normative expectations. This first step of research will be led by the theoretical unit of the CPDR.

A second level of the research, which will be developed in parallel, will explore the possible institutional expressions of these conditions required for the success of the learning operation. This will be achieved on the basis of three thematic researches. The fields under study have been selected both because of their relevance in the current debates in international governance and because of the presence in Belgium of strong research teams in these domains. Moreover, the very diversity of the areas under investigation in these thematic studies should contribute to help refine the hypothesis about governance which forms the basis of our work, and test both its promises and its limitations, and where further improvements are to be made. These three thematic researches will be implemented by sub-networks composed of the three thematic subunits of the CPDR and their different Belgian and international partners as developed below.

1. The first thematic research will conducted jointly by the CPDR (UCL), LICOS and the IIL (KULeuven). This research will examine the impact on human development of the liberalization of private foreign direct investment (FDI), through the conclusion of international investment agreements (IIAs), whether under the form of bilateral investment treaties (BITs), regional trade agreements (RTAs) or multilateral treaties (WTO, GATS, TRIMS). It shall put forward proposals which could ensure that such liberalization effectively contributes to the goals of human development centred on the realization of human rights. The research will seek, first, to offer a diagnosis on the opportunities and risks associated with the various tools seeking to encourage FDI. A diversity of methodologies will be used including legal analysis, literature reviews, empirical studies with a micro-economic dimension in order to examine firm-level effects of FDI as well as the local development impact of FDI, and open consultations with a variety of stakeholders. Second, policy proposals will be developed. These proposals will rely on the findings of the first phase, while complementing those findings wherever necessary.

2. This second thematic research will involve the CPDR (UCL), and two associated teams of the university of Ghent: the Laboratory of Microbiology (MICRO) and the Research Unit on Knowledge-based Systems (KERMIT). It will examine the governance of the microbiological commons, focusing on the contribution of global initiatives for information sharing to collective learning in the field of biodiversity governance. It will develop a comparative analysis of the institutional design of collaborative networks, in order to analyse how reflexive governance can be explicitly part of the strategic program of international institutions and contribute to realize the objectives of equitable profit sharing with the providing countries, to the protection of traditional knowledge and to the building of a sustainable research commons.

The researchers of this thematic field of research are directly involved in the different international initiatives that are currently underway in the field of biodiversity governance. This project wants to takes these initiatives further by developing a technical and institutional prototype that builds learning processes and inferential reflexive processes directly in the institutional design. In particular, the aim will be to analyse the conditions to build institutional “clusters” of stakeholders or mandated sub-groups whose activity is dedicated to learning and capacity building in the collaborative knowledge networks.

The expected result is to produce a typology of learning processes in the field of the microbiological commons, to formulate policy proposals for institutional design and to develop a prototype model for the sharing of microbiological information – coined the bioportal. This bioportal envisions to be a “test-case” for the establishment of a sound technological, institutional and legal infrastructure for the ongoing institutional experimentation in the field of the microbiological commons.

3. This third thematic research will be carried out by the CPDR (UCL), two teams from the University of Liège : the LENTIC Laboratoire d’Etudes sur les Nouvelles Technologies et le Changement (LENTIC) and a team from the department of company and commercial law, and the ‘Centre for Business Research (CBR) of the University of Cambridge. The grounding of the prevailing conception of corporate governance on mainstream economic theory, in particular on its conceptions of the firm and the market, has been at the source of a number of failures, both theoretical and practical, as exhibited by the inability of current tools to prevent certain widespread unethical or illegal conducts. The purpose of this thematic research is to investigate, in the light of the above mentioned advances in ‘reflexive governance’, three specific questions where the inadequacy of current approaches to corporate governance are already becoming visible : first, the maladjustment of the current concept of corporate governance to the new organizational forms of business, requiring some specific modes of ‘network governance’; second, the maladjustment of the current concept of ‘fiduciary duties’ to the demands for ‘social responsibility’ increasingly incumbent on firms; third, the insufficiency of market-based mechanisms as the unique regulatory device of the financial system. This thematic research should lead to formulate a set of proposals for reflexive regulatory schemes that would better fit the specific requirements of ‘multi-stakeholder governance’.

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