Professor Karen Yeung
Tel: (0)20 7848 2465
Research interests and PhD supervision
After completing a combined Law/Commerce degree at the University of Melbourne, Karen Yeung came to the United Kingdom in 1993 as a Rhodes Scholar to read for the Bachelor of Civil Law at Oxford University where she also completed her D Phil. Following this, she spent ten years as a University Lecturer at Oxford University and as a Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford. Professor Yeung joined the Dickson Poon School of Law as a Chair in Law in September 2006. She joined the School to help establish the Centre for Technology, Law & Society (‘TELOS’), of which she is now Director. In that role, she is keen to foster collaboration between academics across various disciplines concerned with examining the social, political and ethical implications of technological development, and in seeking to promote informed, reflective technology policy making and implementation.
Professor Yeung has established an international reputation in two fields: as an academic pioneer in helping to establish the intellectual coherence and value of regulation studies (or ‘regulatory governance’ studies) as a field of scholarly inquiry (with a recent interest in regulation within healthcare contexts) and as a leading scholar concerned with critically examining the governance of, and governance through, new and emerging technologies.
She has acted as advisor to various government bodies and policy-makers, including the Department of Health, The Health Service Research Network, the National Audit Office, Department of Community and Local Government, The Bar Standards Board, and the Australian competition regulator (the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission) and has contributed to several governmental reform projects in the area of regulatory enforcement. She is admitted to practice as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria (Australia), having completed a brief stint in professional legal practice.
Professor Yeung’s research interests lie in two broadly defined fields of governance: understanding regulatory governance regimes, and the regulation and governance of, and governance through, new and emerging technologies. For her, not only is regulation an important mechanism of social control and form of governance, but also a dynamic and contested site of human interaction. Her interest in new and emerging technologies focuses on interrogating the multiple (yet often opaque) ways in which ‘design’ can be employed as an instrument of government, with the aim of intentionally influencing the behaviour of others, while recognising that new technologies generate novel risks which may themselves call for regulation.
Her work is distinctive in its interdisciplinary orientation, drawing on a range of social-scientific disciplines (including politics, economics and sociology) whilst giving prominence to law and underlying constitutional principles.
Karen’s first book, Securing Compliance (Hart Publishing, Oxford 2004) critically examines the use of bargaining and punishment as regulatory compliance techniques, seeking to flesh out whether there are any principled limits to their legitimate use. Building on her experience of teaching Regulation at Oxford University, she later co-authored (with Bronwen Morgan) An Introduction to Law and Regulation (Law in Context Series, Cambridge University Press, 2007). It sets out to provide a conceptual map to those who are new to the field of regulation as well as a helpful resource for established scholars, drawing from a range of perspectives in law and the social sciences. She is currently completing the Oxford Handbook on the Law and Regulation of Technology, which she is editing with Roger Brownsword and Eloise Scotford. The work seeks to explore the implications for law and regulation of new technologies, provoking reflection on law’s nature, role and the challenges it faces in light of technological development (including the use of technology in regulation) and to explore the implications for regulation and governance of technological development.
A central theme animating her work focuses on the implications of design-based regulatory techniques for accountability and legitimacy, including the way in which they implicate (or fail to implicate) democratic, constitutional and ethical values. Her current research encompasses three broad concerns. The first seeks to explore the legitimacy of sophisticated algorithmic techniques associated with so-called ‘Big Data’ revolution and the rise of predictive analytics. Because these analytic techniques enable the ‘deep personalisation’ of an individual’s digital information environment based on comprehensive real-time tracking and analysis of a person’s digital traces, they have the potential to act as a particularly powerful, pervasive yet insidious form of ‘soft’ design-based control. Hence, she is currently undertaking a series of investigations concerning the use of ‘Big Data’ as a mode of design-based regulation, seeking to interrogate the implications for regulatory accountability and legitimacy associated with the rise of algorithmic decision-making by both public and private actors.
The second area of research seeks to interrogate the regulation of technological risk in the transnational realm. Together with Professor Peer Zumbansen, she is developing a transnationalised perspective on technological innovation that investigates how notions of technological ‘risk’, ‘progress’, ‘growth’, and ‘development’ are perceived at a concrete, local level whilst being embedded and shaped by global and transnational forces and dynamics to provide a richer, contextualised and more realistic understanding of the ways in which these core ideas evolve over time and space.
The third area explores the ways in which new and emerging technologies are increasingly directed at redesigning biological organisms, including human beings, as instruments for securing non-health related goals. These techniques include pharmacological and neurological interventions that operate directly on human physiological functioning (for example, the chemical castration of convicted sex offenders by several states in the US to reduce the risk which such individuals are adjudged to pose to the public on release from prison.) Her overarching intellectual ambition is to draw together these three strands and extend her work on design-based regulation as part of a larger project to understand the use of ‘Governance by Design’ that is made possible by the kinds of technologies that are emerging in the 21st century.
She welcomes PhD students interested in technological governance, with a particular emphasis on the way in which technologies are used as public policy instruments, and in regulatory governance regimes more generally.
Oxford Handbook on the Law and Regulation of Technology Oxford University Press, Oxford (with Roger Brownsword and Eloise Scotford), 2015, forthcoming
An Introduction to Law and Regulation, Cambridge University Press, Law In Context series (with Bronwen Morgan), April 2007.
Securing Compliance, Hart Publishing (Oxford, 2004)
View full list of Professor Yeung’s publications.
Regulatory Policy and Practice