International Conference of the Commission on Legal Pluralism

Mumbai, India
Event Date

Kirstin I. Conti, PhD Research Fellow at IGRAC, will present on 'Methods for Global Assessment of Legal Plural Regimes: Applications to Groundwater Governance' during the biennial international conference of the Commission on Legal Pluralism, which will take place from 14 to 16 December 2015 at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai, India. Below is shown the abstract of Conti's presentation. 

Methods for Global Assessment of Legal Plural Regimes: Applications to Groundwater Governance 

There are significant challenges facing groundwater governance in the anthropocene. Global groundwater withdrawals are rapidly increasing rapidly and depletion hot spots are growing in number, as is the severity of their depletion. Despite the magnitude of these challenges, the legal architecture for groundwater governance is highly pluralistic across and within geographic levels: global, regional-transboundary, national, and sub-national. Legal pluralism in groundwater governance take different form at different geographic levels, in part because of historically incongruous treatments of the scopes and principles appropriate for groundwater in law (Conti and Gupta, 2014). Plurality and informality has increased at the international and regional levels due to the influence of Communities of Practice on global administrative law. At the national and subnational levels, norms governing access to and allocation of groundwater can differ between traditional local practices and codified laws. 
Although study of the legal aspects of groundwater governance is a burgeoning research area, a majority of analysis to date has focused on studies of specific countries or transboundary aquifers. Thus, there is insufficient research to characterize the state of the legal architecture for groundwater governance across different geographic levels without undertaking new investigations with mixed-methods approaches. Therefore, the proposed paper will respond to the question: What are the appropriate methods for characterizing the current state of the legal architecture of groundwater governance with an across the global, region-transboundary and national levels?
This paper proposed a mixed-method approach that combines qualitative and quantitative methods with concepts from multiple disciplines including law, geography, political science, and hydrogeology. The resultant conceptual framework utilizes qualitative data regarding legal frameworks to construct a coding scheme for legal principles and instruments that are used in individual legal texts. Through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), overlapping geographical scopes of these laws can be identified and visualized thusly showing the degree of legal pluralism across and within geographic levels. Using statistical software, spatial and temporal patterns among these legal principles and instruments can identify gaps and conflicts in the overall legal architecture for groundwater governance. While codifying and indexing legal principles and instruments may cause some nuances to be removed from the scope of this work, the patterns identified quantitatively are validated qualitatively through a field investigation in the Stampriet Transboundary Aquifer that crosses Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. 
This mixed methodological approach presents clear advantages over those that are purely quantitative or qualitative. Firstly, a purely qualitative approach would not have allowed the full range of normative patterns in groundwater laws to be identified and therefore key attributes of the existing framework may have been lost. Secondly, a purely quantitative approach would have eliminated the opportunity for thicker description of real cases of groundwater governance and would have forfeit an understanding of whether the codified norms are carrying any force on the ground. Further, using GIS mapping as a visualization tool for laws, for the first time, allows spatial patterns of groundwater governance to be reveled, enhancing the understanding of how legal behavior relates to geography. This methodology has the potential to be replicable to other research areas with a high volume of codified legal texts that result in legal pluralism at multiple geographic levels.