Dr Dominic Burbidge is Research Coordinator of the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government in the Faculty of Law. He was awarded his doctorate in Oriel College, University of Oxford, and his masters in St Antony's College, before working as a Postdoctoral Researcher in Princeton University and then a Departmental Lecturer in Oxford's School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies. He was also previously a Postdoctoral Researcher in Oxford's Faculty of Law. Dr Burbidge founded the Canterbury Institute and the Barry Scholarship for leading Oxford graduate students.

Dr Burbidge's research focuses on the philosophical foundations of law and the social sciences. He analyses research methodologies - their assumptions and aims, and the extent to which they rely on a normative-empirical distinction. Dr Burbidge holds particular expertise in natural law's central case method, game theory, experimental social science methodologies, and social ontology. He is also an expert in the Kenyan constitution and Kenyan politics.

His book, The Shadow of Kenyan Democracy, uses a game theoretical research design to identify a difference between average perceptions of corruption and average perceptions of the average perception of corruption. This debate on what counts as the 'average' he takes to evaluate notions of 'average' or 'fair' treatment before the law, as contrasted with notions of ‘fairness’ and ‘neutrality’ in the social sciences.

Dr Burbidge holds particular expertise in Kenya's radical devolution of government functions under the 2010 constitution. He has written on how the legal changes are being navigated locally, as well as on the broader theory of subsidiarity and decentralisation. He is currently finishing a book entitled An Experiment in Devolution: The Kenyan Nation as Decentralised Ledger.

In recent work, Dr Burbidge applies virtue ethics to the social sciences and the study of law, in order to capture how institutions act as normative enterprises constituted by value-based habit, practice and intention. He applies this approach to the branches of government to provide a virtue-based account for distinguishing between the roles of the judiciary, legislature and executive.


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  • D Burbidge, 'Security and Devolution in Kenya: Struggles in Applying Constitutional Provisions to Local Politics' (2017) 3 Strathmore Law Journal 131
    The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution of Kenya (2010 Constitution) retains security as a function of National Government. At the same time, the 2010 Constitution creates 47 county governments with considerable autonomy in public service provision. Many county governors have demanded a say in the deployment of security services because of the inequality of security provision throughout Kenya’s history. While the 2010 Constitution is clear, however, in not providing much of a local say in the way security is deployed, it is found that in their day-to-day activities security officials depend on a close relationship with local politicians. This article examines constitutional provisions in the context of the history of security in Kenya and its practical deployment under the new political framework. It is argued that the long-term reasons for the inconsistent and insensitive use of security forces endure in contemporary dilemmas over the relationship between national security provision and local politics. Regardless of what the 2010 Constitution says, successful deployment of security depends on cooperative local political relations. Attempts to establish these links can often lead county governors to overstep their mandates, however, contravening the 2010 Constitution. We are therefore not only witnessing a transformation of the political structure through devolution but also transformation of the negotiated structure of security’s deployment.
  • D Burbidge, 'The Inherently Political Nature of Subsidiarity' (2017) The American Journal of Jurisprudence
    There is an essential contradiction in contemporary notions of subsidiarity. On the one hand, subsidiarity appeals to the ability of local bodies to engage in their own decision-making; on the other, subsidiarity employs a meta-explanation for appropriate levels of decision-making authority. In fact, therefore, the meta-explanation is assumed to provide a non-partisan basis for identifying when decision-making power should be exercised at a primary level (e.g., by representatives of the local association itself) and when at a subsidiarity level (e.g., by the state), assuming as a premise what needs to be proved as a conclusion. By making such an assumption, the criteria for who gets to decide are taken away from primary actors themselves, limiting the fullness of their political involvement. The answer lies in recognizing that any meta-explanation for the theory of subsidiarity should be fully articulated as part of the democratic process and remain open to being questioned and challenged. The different intentions that lie behind switches to decentralization leave their mark on the nature of interference in sub-state units, proving that it is false to treat a principle of subsidiarity as politically neutral and of equivalent value wherever deployed. The meta-explanation of the criteria for aggregating or disaggregating power is something engaged with by citizens who do subsidiarity as a political practice. They take forward a view of appropriate decentralization in accordance with what they think the state should be doing and what associational groups should be doing. This at times yields priority to larger organizations for coordinated pursuit of some goods over others but does not surrender definitional discretion on the criteria for aggregating power. Defining the basis on which power is made hierarchical in society is part of the practice of doing subsidiarity, rendering subsidiarity by nature inherently political.
  • D Burbidge, 'The Uncomfortable Question of Urgency for Liberal Thought: A Dialogue between John Locke's Two Treatises of Government and Contemporary Liberal Theory' (2017) 2 Politics & Poetics
    Amartya Sen and Thomas M. Scanlon confront liberal theories of primary goods by asking how they determine the appropriate political urgency for some goods over others. Their review of arguments of welfare optimizsation through impartial reasoning reveals a lack of discussion on why in a democracy some citizen views should be considered objective and some subjective and to be pursued with less urgency. The article traces this disjuncture to discussions in John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and argues that these contemporary difficulties are reflective of original irreconcilability between Locke’s political anthropology and social contract accounts. The first of these recommends gradual care in transitioning from family-based authority to the larger community, shedding light on the status of individuals regardless of formal political constitution. The second instead centres on political legitimacy through means of social contract, relying on assumptions of universal rationality that work against the first account’s deference to gradualism and parental authority. Here is where irreconcilability arises, for Locke’s is a theory that appreciates value in the slow and steady that is justified, in the end, in terms of uniform rational capacities. Whilst the conflicting emphases retain some sense of balance in Locke, contemporary liberal theories take only the second account forward, and so are incapable of debating appropriate political urgency.
  • D Burbidge and Cheeseman, 'Expanding Municipal Revenues' in Marco Kamiya & Le-Yin Zhang (ed), Finance for City Leaders Handbook (UN-HABITAT 2016)

Research programmes

Research Interests

devolution; local government; constitutional law; trust; social capital; jurisprudence

Research projects