What We Do

Our project examines a question that is fundamental to systems of constitutional government: from where do public institutions get their authority?

Constitutional law tends to assume that authority comes from the law: that people comply with an instruction because it comes from an official designated by law.

But the reality is often much more complicated. An institution’s authority may be influenced by multiple factors: its history, identity, popularity, or levels of public trust. An institution’s authority can also change over time. It can become stronger – or it can collapse.

The goal of the research is to investigate this issue by talking directly to the people whose views shape institutional authority: political leaders, government officials and – most importantly – ordinary people. By asking people their views on the institutions that govern them, the project team hopes to build a better understanding of how constitutional systems actually operate.

The Foundations of Institutional Authority (FIAT) is an interdisciplinary research project based at the Centre for Constitutional Studies in the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin and funded by a European Research Council Consolidator grant.

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UCD Sutherland School of Law

When and why do people obey? Investigating authority in context

The project sees the authority of an institution as a claim rather than as a command.

This means that the strength or weakness of that claim has the potential to change over time or in different situations.
Therefore, any investigation of institutional authority has to look at how authority claims function in specific contexts. For that reason, the FIAT project will examine this process in detail across a number of different case studies.