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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

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Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The first Handbook of original articles by leading scholars of global environmental politics, this landmark volume maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this young and growing field. Captured here are the dynamic and energetic debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 11: Why is There No Unified Theory of Environmental Governance?

Oran R. Young


11 Why is there no unified theory of environmental governance? Oran R. Young* As a participant in the US National Research Council’s project focusing on institutions for managing the commons and endeavouring both to assess recent advances in knowledge in this field and to set a research agenda for future work (Ostrom et al., 2002), I found myself becoming puzzled, perplexed and, in the end, frustrated. The growth of scientific understanding regarding the roles that social institutions play as determinants of the course of human–environment relations in small-scale social systems is undoubtedly a major achievement. Yet the rapidly growing literature on small-scale systems is by no means the only significant recent development arising from the study of environmental governance. Equally impressive streams of research focus on environmental regimes at the national level and especially at the international level. Increasingly, we are aware as well that there is substantial interplay among institutional arrangements operating at different levels of social organization. An obvious strategy, under the circumstances, would be to compare and contrast bottom-up perspectives and top-down perspectives in this realm in the interests of developing more powerful or general propositions about the institutional dimensions of human–environment relations and ultimately formulating a unified theory of environmental governance. Yet even those who ought to be its natural advocates have made little effort to pursue this strategy. Why is this the case, and what can we do to stimulate greater interest in cross-scale comparisons on the part of...

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