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Institutions for the Anthropocene: Governance in a Changing Earth System


The unusually stable Earth system of the Holocene epoch of the past 10,000 years, in which human civilization arose, is yielding to a more dynamic and unstable Anthropocene epoch driven by human practices. The consequences for key institutions, such as states, markets and global governance, are profound. Path dependency in institutions complicit in destabilizing the Earth system constrains response to this emerging epoch. Institutional analysis highlights reflexivity as the antidote to problematic path dependency. A more ecological discourse stresses resilience, foresight and state shifts in the Earth system. Ecosystemic reflexivity can be located as the first virtue of political institutions in the Anthropocene. Undermining all normative institutional models, this analysis enables re-thinking of political institutions in dynamic social-ecological terms.

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Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, Centenary Professor, Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra (email: These ideas were sharpened in working with Richard Norgaard, David Schlosberg and Hayley Stevenson. For helpful comments, the author thanks Andrew Dobson and Jonathan Kuyper. While he does make some gentle criticisms herein, he has learned much from his fellow participants in the Earth System Governance Project.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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