- Ph.D., Political Science, The George Washington University, 2012
- M.S., Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, 1996
- B.A., Religious Studies, The College of Wooster, 1992
Craig Kauffman’s research and teaching focus on environmental politics, ecological law, rights of nature, and sustainable development. Increasingly, scientists are warning that avoiding the worst effects of climate change and mass extinction from biodiversity loss requires a radical and fundamental transformation of our social, economic, and legal systems to ones that prioritize the functioning of ecosystems that provide the conditions necessary for life. Kauffman’s research looks at how transnational networks of scientists, lawyers, activists, scholars, and policymakers at all levels of government around the world are working to enact these transformations, particularly through the adoption of ecological laws that prioritize the functioning of ecosystems that provide the conditions necessary for life.
Theoretically, Kauffman’s research is driven by four broad questions. First, when states fail to address a global problem like climate change, either through multilateral agreements or national laws, why and how are actions nonetheless taken on the ground? Second, how does the interaction among global, national, and local actors determine the success of governance reform attempts? Third, how do ideas regarding the best way to tackle global problems, and the structures for implementing these ideas, evolve? Fourth, how do new norms regarding human-nature relations emerge and strengthen to the point where they begin to change the way people think about their relationship to nature, and consequently change their behavior.
To answer these questions, Kauffman examines how authority is structured and exercised in new, experimental governance arrangements; how power is distributed and flows within transnational governance networks; the politics of creating collaborative, multi-level governance arrangements; norm contestation and evolution; and ecological law. He is particularly interested in how these issues shape the politics and policies relating to climate change and sustainable development. He is the author of numerous articles and two books on these subjects.
Kauffman’s first book, Grassroots Global Governance, shows how when international agreements fail to solve global problems like climate change, transnational networks attempt to address them by implementing “global ideas”—policies and best practices negotiated at the global level—locally around the world. Grassroots Global Governance not only explains why some efforts succeed while others fail, but also why the process of implementing global ideas locally causes these ideas to evolve. The book shows how transnational actors’ success in putting global ideas into practice depends on the strategies they use to activate networks of grassroots actors influential in local social and policy arenas. Yet, grassroots actors neither accept nor reject global ideas as presented by outsiders. Instead, they negotiate whether and how to adapt them to fit local conditions. This contestation produces experimentation with unique institutional applications of a global idea infused with local norms and practices. Local experiments that endure are perceived as “successful,” allowing those involved to activate transnational networks to scale up and diffuse innovative local governance models globally. These models carry local norms and practices to the international level where they challenge existing global approaches. By explaining how this occurs, the book reveals the grassroots level as an important but often overlooked terrain where global governance is constructed.
Kauffman’s second book (with Dr. Pamela Martin) is The Politics of Rights of Nature: Strategies for Building a More Sustainable Future, published by MIT Press in August 2021. Kauffman and Martin tell how community activists, lawyers, judges, scientists, government leaders, and ordinary citizens have formed a global movement to advance rights of Nature as a solution to the environmental crises facing the planet. With the window of opportunity to take meaningful action on climate change and mass extinction closing, a growing number of communities, organizations, and governments around the world are calling for rights of Nature to be legally recognized. Rights of Nature advocates are creating new laws that recognize natural ecosystems as subjects with inherent rights, and appealing to courts to protect those rights. As they analyze efforts to use rights of Nature as a tool for constructing more ecocentric sustainable development, capable of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goal of living “in harmony with Nature,” Kauffman and Martin show how rights of Nature jurisprudence evolves through experimentation and reshapes the debates surrounding sustainable development.
Currently, Craig Kauffman’s research looks more broadly at how different cultures are adopting different legal expressions of ecological jurisprudence, the contemporary trend within legal theory and practice that rejects the anthropocentric assumptions traditionally underpinning much of the dominant legal traditions of the past few centuries. Rights of Nature is not the only way to express ecological jurisprudence, and laws rooted in non-Western cultures often emphasize human responsibilities rather than rights of nature. In 2021, Dr. Kauffman received a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to create the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor, an open access, interactive, online platform that tracks various ecological jurisprudence initiatives globally and provides related information and resources for policymakers, researchers, lawyers, and activists. Dr. Kauffman leads an international team of researchers to build and maintain the Monitor, which was released to the public in October 2022 and is continually expanded. Among other things, the Monitor’s dataset and dashboard interface allow Kauffman to analyze similarities and differences between different legal and cultural expressions in order to identify common underlying principles, as well as lessons about strategies for strengthening implementation.
Dr. Kauffman is also a member of the United Nations Knowledge Network on Harmony with Nature and a founding member of the Academic Hub of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. His research has been funded by the Inter-American Foundation, the Sony Corporation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Oregon Humanities Center, and the University of Oregon.