Deontic power and institutional contexts
In this article I study the constraints and opportunities available to decision-makers in an institutional context (a county council), by analyzing the deliberative process that led to the rejection of an application for exploratory fracking. Drawing on a corpus of 130,000 words, I intend to develop the theorization of argumentation in institutional contexts initiated in pragma-dialectics (van Eemeren, 2010) by drawing on philosopher John Searle’s (2010) concept of “deontic power”. Illustrating both the restrictive and enabling force of the institutional context, my analysis shows that, while decisions which are in keeping with institutional rules are legitimate in the sense of being legal, the reasonableness of the institutional context itself cannot be taken for granted. With various institutional rules in place seeming to obstruct rather than facilitate a rational decision outcome, and a local decision, democratically arrived at, subsequently legally overturned by central government, it can be argued that bias against local democracy was in this case built into (legal) institutional design.