Ecosystem Reflexivity and the Effectiveness of Marine Governance

Project Outline and objectives:

This PhD project aims to develop and test cutting edge theory for improving the design of institutions for marine governance at an international, regional and/or national scale.

Our current era is considered by many as ‘The Anthropocene’, which is dominated by human impacts on the Earth’s ecosystems pushing us past physical, biological and human limits. The effective management of changes in human activities in the face of extreme events and ecosystem change requires resilience in governance and institutions. Dryzek (2014) therefore recently proposed ‘ecosystem reflexivity’ as key component of institutions that are required in the Anthropocene. However, to date research on the ecosystem reflexivity of institutions has been primarily theoretical and conceptual and would benefit from further empirical testing.

Adopting a socio-ecological systems perspective and building on methods that have been used for the analysis and modeling of marine ecosystems, this PhD project will develop a framework for exploring Dryzek’s recent work on ecosystem reflexivity of environmental institutions for the Anthropocene. The project will combine use of the international environmental regimes database (Breitmeier, Young and Zürn 2006) with in-depth case study analysis of institutions relating to marine governance such as the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources, Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels or regional fisheries institutions.

The project will combine insights from the above qualitative and quantitative approaches to address the following key questions on the design, operation and effectiveness of institutions for the governance of marine resources and environments in the Anthropocene:

• How might ecosystem reflexivity be measured and used in the design of institutions for marine governance?

• How does ecosystem reflexivity contribute to the effectiveness of institutions for marine governance?

• Does the impact of ecosystem reflexivity on effectiveness change with the scale of the institution involved?

• What are the policy implications of designing for ecosystem reflexivity? What lessons can be learnt from the case-study institutions in this regard?

Jeffrey McGee (
Julia Blanchard, UTas
Marcus Haward, UTas
Aysha Fleming, CSIRO
Tony Smith, CSIRO

Skills required:

Applications are sought from Honours level students (or equivalent) with qualitative and quantitative research skills from disciplines such as ecological sciences, sustainability science, human geography, political science and/or law.


John Dryzek, 2014, ‘Institutions for the Anthropocene: Governance in a
Changing Earth System, British Journal of Political Science, pp.1-20

Helmut Breitmeier, Oran R. Young, and Michael Zürn, 2006, Analyzing International Environmental Regimes: From Case Study to Database, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

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