Feindt, P.H. and Weiland, S. (2018) Reflexive governance: exploring the concept and assessing its critical potential for sustainable development. Introduction to the special issue. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning 20(6), pp. 661-674, DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2018.1532562.

Elaborated in publications on transition management, sustainability governance and deliberative environmental governance, ‘reflexive governance’ addresses concerns about social-ecological vulnerabilities, flawed conceptualisations of human-nature relations fragmented governance regimes and conditions for a sustainability transition. Key barriers to reflexive government include unavoidable politics; the influence of broader discursive systems that shape actors’ strategic interests; and structural and deliberate limitations to the range of admitted epistemological understandings, normative perspectives and material practices.


Against this background, the contributions to the special issue provide novel conceptual linkages between reflexive governance and boundary objects, intercultural dialogue, conflict management heuristics, discourse linguistics, theories of the policy cycle and reflexive law, network and learning theories, and Lasswell’s ‘developmental constructs’. Based on the contributions, we identify five inherent conceptual tensions of reflexive governance: between the openness of horizontal learning processes and the desired direction towards sustainable development; between reflexive governance as a normative or procedural concept; between expected learning orientations and other, strategic orientations; between governance as a precondition for reflexivity and reflexive learning as a precondition for reorganized governance structures; and between reflexivity as an open-ended, evolutionary process and the need to strategically defend the space for reflexivity against powerful groups with an interest in the status quo.