Biography

Dr Dominic Burbidge is the Research Coordinator of the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government in the Faculty of Law. He read his DPhil 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 Global and Area Studies. He was also previously a Postdoctoral Researcher in Oxford's Faculty of Law. Dr Burbidge is the founder of the Canterbury Institute, and the associated Barry Scholarship for leading Oxford graduate students.

Dr Burbidge's research focuses on social trust. He specialises on the place of trust within the social contract, and on how trust can be fostered through decentralised government and the principle of subsidiarity. Recent work looks at the role of listening in fostering trust and, relatedly, challenges to listening well in a digital age. He is developing a theory of the legislature as a specialised listening institution. 

For empirical work in politics and socio-legal studies, he has conducted extensive fieldwork in Kenya, producing two single-authored books, the first on corruption and the second on devolution, examining the extent to which decentralised governance encourages feelings of unity.

Publications

Recent additions

  • D Burbidge and Mark Philp, 'Corruption' in Gabrielle Lynch & Peter VonDoepp (ed), Routledge Handbook of Democratization in Africa (Routledge 2020)
    In this chapter we draw on recent research in anthropology and political science to set out some of the obstacles to applying commonly used definitions and models of corruption to democracies in Africa, and the default assumptions being made about the nature of law, and about how to distinguish between formality and informality, the public and the private, and the administrative and the political. In particular, we discuss the competing understandings of the “public” and of the expectations that people bring to political office, and the various incentives that these expectations create. We review different accounts of why so many African states seem to be stuck with corruption and distinguish four main types of corrupt practice, making a case for recognizing more openly the challenges involved in finding political solutions to practices deeply embedded in these political orders despite democratization.
    ISBN: 9781315112978
  • D Burbidge and Thomas Raji, 'Regional Politics in the Time of Devolution – Central: Self-sufficiency through local government' in Nic Cheeseman, Karuti Kanyinga & Gabrielle Lynch (ed), Oxford Handbook of Kenyan Politics (Oxford University Press 2020)
    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198815693.013.47
    The chapter discusses how devolution has played out in the former Central Province of Kenya, comprising the counties of Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Nyandarua, and Nyeri. Devolution was a controversial provision of the Kenyan Constitution, and many in central Kenya believed during its early stages that its costs outweighed its benefits. Further, because most voters backed Uhuru Kenyatta for the presidency, there was not the same desire for local self-government as elsewhere in the country. Central Kenya therefore represents the extreme test of the devolution model—if it is to be said to have become a permanent feature of Kenyan political life, it must be embraced there too. Taking this as the challenge, the chapter finds that, somewhat surprisingly, the new local government structure has been strongly endorsed by citizens and politicians of central Kenya due to the culture of localised self-sufficiency that endures within the traditions of the Kikuyu community.
    ISBN: 9780198815693
  • D Burbidge, 'Transition to Subnational Democracy: Kenya’s 2017 Presidential and Gubernatorial Elections' (2020) 30 Regional & Federal Studies 387
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13597566.2020.1761340
    Perceptions of the legitimacy of the 2017 subnational elections in Kenya have been bound-up with perceptions of the presidential race, which was nullified by the Supreme Court, casting doubt on the results of subnational elections held on the same day. I conduct a nationally representative survey on the way citizens voted on election day, akin to an exit-poll of Kenya's 2017 elections, and find that the survey responses match with the electoral commission's announcement of results. I additionally overview all court cases disputing the 2017 gubernatorial results and again find no reason to reject the electoral commission's pronouncement of results. Based on the evidence provided I argue that the Supreme Court nullification of the presidential vote does not cast doubt on the accuracy of the gubernatorial vote. The findings point to a strong and robust democratization underway at the subnational level in Kenya.

Chapter (6)

D Burbidge and Mark Philp, 'Corruption' in Gabrielle Lynch & Peter VonDoepp (ed), Routledge Handbook of Democratization in Africa (Routledge 2020)
In this chapter we draw on recent research in anthropology and political science to set out some of the obstacles to applying commonly used definitions and models of corruption to democracies in Africa, and the default assumptions being made about the nature of law, and about how to distinguish between formality and informality, the public and the private, and the administrative and the political. In particular, we discuss the competing understandings of the “public” and of the expectations that people bring to political office, and the various incentives that these expectations create. We review different accounts of why so many African states seem to be stuck with corruption and distinguish four main types of corrupt practice, making a case for recognizing more openly the challenges involved in finding political solutions to practices deeply embedded in these political orders despite democratization.
ISBN: 9781315112978
D Burbidge and Thomas Raji, 'Regional Politics in the Time of Devolution – Central: Self-sufficiency through local government' in Nic Cheeseman, Karuti Kanyinga & Gabrielle Lynch (ed), Oxford Handbook of Kenyan Politics (Oxford University Press 2020)
DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198815693.013.47
The chapter discusses how devolution has played out in the former Central Province of Kenya, comprising the counties of Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Nyandarua, and Nyeri. Devolution was a controversial provision of the Kenyan Constitution, and many in central Kenya believed during its early stages that its costs outweighed its benefits. Further, because most voters backed Uhuru Kenyatta for the presidency, there was not the same desire for local self-government as elsewhere in the country. Central Kenya therefore represents the extreme test of the devolution model—if it is to be said to have become a permanent feature of Kenyan political life, it must be embraced there too. Taking this as the challenge, the chapter finds that, somewhat surprisingly, the new local government structure has been strongly endorsed by citizens and politicians of central Kenya due to the culture of localised self-sufficiency that endures within the traditions of the Kikuyu community.
ISBN: 9780198815693
D Burbidge and Cheeseman, 'Expanding Municipal Revenues' in Marco Kamiya & Le-Yin Zhang (ed), Finance for City Leaders Handbook (UN-HABITAT 2016)

Journal Article (10)

D Burbidge, 'Transition to Subnational Democracy: Kenya’s 2017 Presidential and Gubernatorial Elections' (2020) 30 Regional & Federal Studies 387
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13597566.2020.1761340
Perceptions of the legitimacy of the 2017 subnational elections in Kenya have been bound-up with perceptions of the presidential race, which was nullified by the Supreme Court, casting doubt on the results of subnational elections held on the same day. I conduct a nationally representative survey on the way citizens voted on election day, akin to an exit-poll of Kenya's 2017 elections, and find that the survey responses match with the electoral commission's announcement of results. I additionally overview all court cases disputing the 2017 gubernatorial results and again find no reason to reject the electoral commission's pronouncement of results. Based on the evidence provided I argue that the Supreme Court nullification of the presidential vote does not cast doubt on the accuracy of the gubernatorial vote. The findings point to a strong and robust democratization underway at the subnational level in Kenya.
D Burbidge, 'Trust and Social Relations in African Politics' (2019) Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.890
Africa is a place of low social trust. This fact is significant for understanding the politics and economics of the region, whether for questions of national unity or economic coordination and growth. One of the central ways in which trust and social relations have come to be examined within the social sciences is through the notion of social capital, defined as the norms and networks that enable collective action. Use of the concept of social capital has mushroomed in popularity within academia since the 1980s and has been used within African studies to interpret the developmental effects of social relations. It is important to review how researchers have been synthesizing the study of African societies with the social capital approach, and offer suggestions on how this can be better achieved. Specifically, there is contradiction between the view that social capital is useful for economic development and the view that social capital means a community can decide its own economic goals. Students of social capital in Africa must accept that the cultural and normative diversity of the continent necessitates appreciation of the diverse aims of social networks. This means a rejection both of modernist theories of development and postmodern reduction of human relations to forms of power exchange. Future research on trust and social capital in Africa must give weight to community articulations of motivations to trust, what activities count as communal, and what new economic cultures are being formed as a result of present communal varieties.
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
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ajj/aux017
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.

Book (1)

Research programmes

Research Interests

trust; social capital; devolution; local government; kenya

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