Research Methods in Environmental Law
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Research Methods in Environmental Law

A Handbook

Edited by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos and Victoria Brooks

This timely Handbook brings innovative, free-thinking and radical approaches to research methods in environmental law. With a comprehensive approach it brings together key concepts such as sustainability, climate change, activism, education and Actor-Network Theory. It considers how the Anthropocene subjects environmental law to critique, and to the needs of the variety of bodies, human and non-human, that require its protection. This much-needed book provides a theoretically informed analysis of methodological approaches in the discipline, such as constitutional analysis, rights-based approaches, spatial/geographical analysis, immersive methodologies and autoethnography, which will aid in the practical critique and re-imagining of Environmental Law.
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Chapter 15: A systems theory perspective on the principle of precaution employing critical discourse analysis

John Paterson


Systems theory characterizes the most complex problems confronting environmental law as essentially fractured among a variety of functional communicative systems. Taking this insight seriously, however, reveals that the most advanced tools of environmental law, such as the principle of precaution, must also be understood as similarly fractured. Noting the controversy that surrounds the principle, this chapter sets out to discover whether the disagreements may best be understood as arising from different system-specific constructions and whether such a finding might help to favour constructions which leave open its potential for rational decision making rather than those which essentially mistake it for other principles. This endeavour in turn calls for a methodological approach which can be efficiently deployed in an appropriate setting in order to tease out different system-specific constructions. Critical discourse analysis is proposed and applied in the reading of a key court judgement relating to the implementation of the principle in the context of a regulatory decision. The compatibility of critical discourse analysis with systems theory is addressed, with the suggestion being made that this can be achieved by understanding the latter as in essence the critique of critique. The hope is expressed that the chapter’s findings encourage others to consider the advantages that may be gained from understanding complex environmental law problems in terms of systems theory and specifically with the assistance of critical discourse analysis.

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