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A Symposium with Professor Roger Brownsword

| Super-stewardship in the Context of Public Health, School of Law, University of Sheffield, 14 November 2009

Project team
Dr Mark L. Flear (QUB) (Principal Investigator)
Dr Anne-Maree Farrell (Manchester)
Professor Tamara K. Hervey (Sheffield)
Professor Therese Murphy (Nottingham)


This interdisciplinary symposium brought together the author Roger Brownsword (Law, King’s College London) with readers comprising leading academics and early-career academics, as well as discussants and postgraduate researchers, to discuss the author’s work on stewardship, mentioned in his work on new and innovative technologies as ‘a significant item of unfinished business’. [1] The symposium papers also engaged with the 2007 report of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Public Health: Ethical Issues (which Brownsword co-authored). State stewardship involves using a rights-based approach to incorporate a precautionary way of thinking in public health contexts. The papers used law, public health, bioethics, political theory and science to provide innovative and interdisciplinary insights into the conception and legal-political practice and potential of stewardship – or ‘super-stewardship’ – in supranational and international settings.

In particular, several of the symposium papers (those by Brownsword, John Coggon (Law, Manchester) and Søren Holm (Law, Manchester)) dealt explicitly with the notions of stewardship and ‘super-stewardship’. These notions can be deployed in contexts ranging from public health to new and innovative technologies. The remaining contributions (those by Mark Flear (Law, Queen’s University Belfast), Tamara Hervey (Law, Sheffield) and Thérèse Murphy (Law, Nottingham)) made innovative use of ‘super-stewardship’ by exploring its legal-political applications and implications in specific public health contexts, including the European Union’s (EU’s) involvement in inter alia pandemic influenza preparedness planning and food law, and internationally by reference to the practices of human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The symposium was particularly timely given the development of regulation beyond the nation state, in particular moves that involve use of law and technology (for instance, information and communications technology, and humanitarian kit) as tools for regulation of diverse problems, ranging from the everyday (the law and governance of food within the EU’s internal market) to foreseen and unforeseen, occasional and continuing emergencies (BSE, pandemic influenza and HIV/AIDS) that are of current and ongoing interest. Implicit in consideration of these various interventions were questions about their legitimacy, more precisely, whether and how action by supra-national and international actors can be legitimated. The roles of human rights, risk (sometimes figured as preparedness and security), (bio)ethics and markets in legitimating these interventions were considered in the various contributions. Ensuring that risks are regulated, and the benefits of this regulation are shared both within governance regimes and internationally, was also considered.

Overall, then, the symposium provided important resources for future scholarship on ‘super-stewardship’ and generated a critical awareness of the uses of law and technology in the management and control of the problems confronting governance – including public health, and regulation of new and innovative technologies – in an increasingly globalised age.

[1] R Brownsword, ‘So What Does the World Need Now? Reflections on Regulating Technologies’ in R Brownsword and K Yeung, (eds), Regulating Technologies: Legal Futures, Regulatory Frames and Technological Fixes (Hart, 2008) 47.



Links to international, supranational and civil society organisations

World Health Organisation

European Union

Council of Europe


Linked events
 ‘European Law and New Health Technologies’, ESRC Research Seminar Series