Prospects for scalability: Relationships and uncertainty in responsive regulation


Correspondence: Cristie Ford, Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia, 1822 East Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6Z 1T1, Canada. Email:


Many of the very significant insights in Ian Ayres and John Braithwaite's 1992 book, Responsive Regulation, have transcended the book's time. At the same time, on the 20th anniversary of its publication, two things about the book are striking. The first is the direct, personal relationship on which the regulatory interaction is premised. The second is the boundedness and manageability of the regulatory project. At least in prudential regulation of global financial institutions in the wake of the recent financial crisis (though surely elsewhere too), neither of these features can be taken for granted. This brief essay seeks to open a preliminary conversation about responsive regulation in terms of its scalability. It considers whether as a practical matter, responsive regulation can be scaled up to more diffuse, multiparty, logistically complex contexts, such as financial regulation. As a matter of representation, it asks whether by projecting the focal object, the responsive relationship, outward, responsive regulation distorts our image of regulation in other contexts (or even in responsive regulation's own home environment). The essay closes by arguing that in order to incorporate responsive regulation's considerable discursive and relational benefits into regulatory environments like global financial regulation, it needs to be buttressed by additional regulatory technologies.