Research in the Theory and Practice of Governance (CBR project)

Project team

  • Project leader: Simon Deakin
  • Project team: Gaofeng Meng

Project status


Project dates




A generous donation made it possible to establish a CBR Governance Fund to support a research project on the theory and practice of governance. The project takes a comparative and global perspective, comparing emerging forms of governance in China with those in Europe and north America. It is also examining trends in global governance with a focus on international agencies and their role in the production of global public goods.

Aims and objectives

We define ‘governance’ broadly to refer to the processes through which a polity or entity responds to risks in its environment, with a view to ensuring its continued effectiveness. Critical to this is the capacity of a system of governance to process information about its context, to embed that information in its internal processes, and to adapt in response to external shocks. This perspective builds on a number of different but complementary theoretical approaches which stress the cognitive and evolutionary dimensions of governance (the new institutionalism of Ostrom, North and Aoki; Luhmann’s theory of social systems; the French schools of the economics of conventions and pragmatic sociology; and Foucault’s theory of governmentality or the ‘art of government’). We aim to develop this theoretical framework and to apply it through empirical observation of national, regional and global trends in governance.


on the project has focused on two principal themes. The first is the institutional development of China’s economy, including the evolution of its system of property rights, and the emergence of the Belt and Road Initiative and its potential to generate common regulatory standards and frames of reference for transnational trade and movement of peoples and resources in and beyond the Eurasian region. The second is the response of the governments around the world to the Covid-19 crisis, with the focus on the measures taken in China following the appearance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus late in 2019, and on those adopted in other countries from January 2020.

Simon and Gaofeng completed a working paper on ‘the governance of Covid-19’ in September 2020 and it was published in the Industrial Law Journal in December 2021. During 2021 they worked on a paper concerned with the evolution of property rights in China; in August 2021 this was given a conditional acceptance in the Journal of Institutional Economics. It was published in August 2022.

During the academic year 2022-23, the project team completed an assessment of the state of the rule of law in Cambodia for the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. In addition, Simon Deakin, together with co-authors David Gindis and Geoff Hodgson, took part in an exchange with Jean-Philippe Robé on the theory of the firm.


Working papers

Deakin, S and Meng, G, “The Governance of COVID-19: Anthropogenic Risk, Evolutionary Learning, and the Future of the Social State” Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge Working Paper No. 524, September 2021.

Journal articles

Deakin, S., Gindis, D. and Hodgson, G. (2022) ‘A further reply to Jean-Philippe Robé on the firm’ Journal of Institutional Economics, 18: 703-706

Deakin, S., and Meng, G. (2022) ‘Resolving Douglass C. North’s ‘puzzle’ concerning China’s Household Responsibility System’ Journal of Institutional Economics, 18: 521-535.

Deakin, S., Gindis, D. and Hodgson, G. M. (2021), ‘What is a firm? A reply to Jean-Philippe Robé’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 17: 865–875


Deakin, S., Billa, B., Meng, G. and Wang, B. (2022) The Political Economy of the Rule of Law in Cambodia Report for OHCHR.