UCL Department of Geography


Frances Butler

Research Title

Locating a responsible state: climate governance as a material politics

More about Frances

Academic Background

  • Visiting Scholar, ByWater Institute, Tulane University 2019 - ongoing
  • PhD candidate, Department of Geography, University College London (UCL), 2016 – ongoing (part-time)
  • MSc Climate Change Management, Birkbeck College London, 2014: Dissertation: Decarbonising electricity generation: a place for regulation?
  • Joint winner of Birkbeck Sustainable Futures Prize, 2014
  • LL.B Law, Bristol University, 1981

Work Experience

  • Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and NI), Chair, 2017 – ongoing
  • Liberty (NCCL), Chair 2010 – 2017
  • Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, specialist adviser, 2001 – 2005 & 2007 – 2010
  • Equality and Human Rights Commission, policy adviser, 2007 – 2009
  • Home Affairs Committee, House of Commons, specialist adviser, 2006
  • Government Task Force on establishing the Equality and Human Rights Commission, member, 2003 –04
  • Institute for Public Policy Research, visiting research fellow, 2000 – 2005
  • Harbottle & Lewis, partner and lawyer, 1989-1999
  • Hunton & Williams, New York, Washington DC & Richmond Va, associate, 1987-1989
  • 1 King’s Bench Walk, barrister, 1982-1986

Professional Qualifications

  • Law Society of England and Wales (1990)
  • New York Bar (1989)
  • Bar of England and Wales (1982)

Academic Conferences

  • Materialising climate responsibility: Governing carbon emissions in a hydrocarbon state, paper presented at AAG#2022 in Session title: Locating climate responsibility: matter, processes, interactions, February 25, 2022, New York (online). 
  • Hydroresponsibility: materials and the state in the face of sea level rise, paper presented at RGS#2019 in Session Title: Water matters: infringing the water-society divide through interdisciplinary engagement, Hydrosocial responsibilities and socio-hydrology, 29 August 2019, London. 
  • Locating a responsible state in climate governance, paper presented at RGS#2018 in Session Title: The (In)coherent State: Perspectives from Within, 29 August 2018, Cardiff. 
  • Locating a responsible state in a politics in transition, paper presented at AAG #2018 in Session Title: Politics of State-Change: Matter and Transition, 10 – 14 April 2018, New Orleans. 

Policy and Legal Publications

  • Vanhala, Lisa, Angelica Johansson and Frances Butler (2022) Deploying an Ethnographic Sensibility to Understand Climate Change Governance: Hanging Out, Around, In, and Back, Global Environmental Politics 22(2)
  • Rights for Real: Older People, Human Rights and the CEHR, 2006, Age Concern
  • "Building a Human Rights Culture" in Harvey C (ed) Human Rights in the Community: Rights as Agents for Change, 2005, Hart pp 63-78
  • Human Rights: who needs them? Using Human Rights in the Voluntary Sector, 2004, ippr
  • Human Rights Protection: Methods and Effectiveness, (ed) 2002, Kluwer
  • Human Rights for the New Millennium, (ed) 2000, Kluwer
  • Airline Franchising: Some EC Law Aspects in Dagtoglou P, Balfour J & Mirmina S (eds) 1995, European Air Law Association, Ant. N Sakkoulas & Kluwer, vol 9, pp 45-57
  • Determining safe emission levels for carcinogens: the Vinyl Chloride decision (with Turner T Smith Jr) Journal of Environmental Law, 1989, OUP vol 1 no 1 pp 77-79
Research Interests

The materiality of climate impacts in increasingly multiple locations is producing a response responsibility from public authorities, yet this kind of administrative responsibility is under-explored. Material geography scholarship offers conceptual insight into the relationship between matter and political responses and how matter may come to have political significance (Barry 2013). Recognising the epistemological value of studying the state through Foucauldian governmental practices, my research asks what matter and what effects produce what kinds of state responsibility?

These issues are explored in southern Louisiana, a place properly acknowledged as the ancestral homeland of Indigenous peoples and set in the context of colonialism, racism, extreme pollution, failed governance and injustice (Bullard 1990). As increasing hurricanes, flooding, sea level rise, heat and land loss threaten the lives and livelihoods of its people, coastal Louisiana is also a place where hydrocarbons have long been entangled in politics. Water, land and, latterly, greenhouse gas emissions are in a material tussle with oil jostling for political influence and the production of state responsibility.

Recent state responses to these extreme environmental impacts have established a location of administrative responsibility for which the state can be held to account. However, the implications for climate justice require conceptions of state responsibility that go beyond the assumption of role or task (Hart 1968) towards understandings of climate responsibility that involve relations and reciprocity (Haraway 2016, Whyte 2013).

Research Funding