Natasha Affolder, “Why Study Large Projects? Environmental Regulation’s Neglected Frontier”

Working Abstract

Large natural resource and infrastructure projects are frequently the subject of heated public debates, media scrutiny, protest campaigns, the sites of contestations over economic projections, and a magnet for international consultants on a diverse range of social, economic and environmental issues. Yet this public fascination with large-scale projects has not permeated the scholarship on environmental law and regulation. Large projects as sites of environmental law and regulation remain under-theorized. Isolated case studies exist. But they have yet to be synthesized. What is lacking is any cross-fertilization between project-specific studies; any ambitious and systematic attempt to integrate learning beyond the individual case. The occasion of a workshop to celebrate John Braithwaite’s contributions to regulatory studies, and particularly to Responsive Regulation, provides a welcome opportunity to reflect on this lacuna in environmental regulatory research. The “Braithwaitean” methodology that combines careful empirical investigation, ambitious meta-analysis, and dynamic theorizing is precisely the type of big picture research that is lacking in the large project context. This article sets the stage for future research on the environmental aspects of large project regulation by pulling together a diverse, and as yet disjointed, literature on large projects and by highlighting three key opportunities for new research.

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