Methodological workshop and conference, July 2015 (en)

Transnational mega-events and global environmental governance: methodological issues and avenues of investigation

With support from the GIS Climat Environment et Société

Where? ISCC, 20 rue Berbier du Mets (75013, Paris, France)

When? 5th and 6th July 2015

> Click here to see the programme (pdf)

> Workshop presentations

The next climate change conference (COP21) will be taking place in Paris in December (2015). This event, which will attract tens of thousands of people, is regularly presented as a historic opportunity to reinvigorate the global environmental process. A number of in-depth and long term studies have already been devoted to climate change negotiations and climate governance (see for example, Aykut and Dahan, 2015). Our ambition through this two-day seminar is to go beyond the climate negotiations per se by focusing on “transnational mega-events “ (Little, 1995): the most appropriate ways of studying them and their impact on global environmental governance.

In view of their size and their blurred boundaries, international mega-events – Earth Summits, World Social Forums or Climate and Biodiversity COPs – can be hard to study for individual researchers (Pommerole and Siméant, 2008; Brossius and Campbell, 2010; Foyer, 2015; Baptandier and Houdart, 2015). The diversity of actors, events and spaces of interaction, the complexity and range of issues, as well as countless temporal and spatial overflows, justify the need to adopt a collective approach for the study of on-going global governance processes.

With this in mind we have decided to organise a two-day seminar to share methodological experiences, publicize research outputs and collective research experiences.

The first day will take the shape of a methodological workshop. The purpose of the workshop will be to discuss different ways of collectively analysing mega-events. Drawing on past research experiences, we will collectively seek to answer the following questions: How to set up a research collective and make it work? How important is it to develop a shared research question? What is the most efficient way of monitoring activities in the run-up to mega-events? What are the potential logistical constraints? How do we divide up the work? What are the methodological and technical tools mobilised? How do we share data? How do we collaborate in showcasing and disseminating research material and findings? The workshop’s main purpose will be to share tips and tools that can easily be used by social science researchers involved in the collective study of transnational mega-events.

The second day, open to the public, will give participants the opportunity to present their key research findings. The purpose of these presentations will be to look at how mega-events influence global environmental processes (Campbell et al. 2015) and shape global governance. What are mega-events’ contributions to global environmental governance? What can we learn from the outcomes of these events (often presented as disappointing)? What do they tell us about global governance? What is the real impact of these events on national and local environmental politics? Does global environmental governance act as a “laboratory” for global governance? The morning session will be devoted to presentations of past non-climate related research projects. The afternoon session will focus on global climate governance and key issues relevant to the study of the COP21.

International Participants : Noella Gray, Karin Bäckstrand, Bjorn Ola Linner, Silke Beck, Christopher Rootes, Clare Saunders, Elisabeth Eide, Risto Kunelius, and the members of the ClimaCOP collective.

Sumary of the workshop

Through a methodological workshop, the first day focused on the various ways of collectively studying transnational mega-events. In a first instance, participants – French and non-French academics having collectively study one or various transnational mega-events – were asked to briefly present their research interests. What emerged out of the discussion is the diversity of projects: both in terms of scale (international, national), type of mega-event studied (climate conferences, social forums…) and research object (citizens mobilisations, medias, climate governance, biodiversity, cross-cutting issues such as adaptation).

There followed a rich discussion on the methodological questions specific to each of the projects presented and the potential linkages between projects. Discussions focused on the birth and management of collective ethnographies and the specific difficulties that are associated with them: impact of national research contexts on their funding and preparation, establishment and day-to-day management of the research collective, drafting a project and writing/publishing papers/books.

The discussion subsequently focused on the distinctiveness of transnational mega-events and their specific methodological challenges. We discussed the issue of mega-event “embeddedness” in their national context as well as heir “translocal” dimensions (especially when dealing with annual conferences such as the UNFCCC). Regarding the specific challenges of mega-events from a research perspective, participants highlighted the obstacle posed by fieldwork access (accreditations, access to the different spaces…) and more generally when it comes to the space offered to researchers (the fact, for example, that there is no specific right of access for academics working on UNFCCC conferences but that they have to be associated with a ‘Major Group’).

The day ended with an exchange on potential future collaboration(s) – especially in view of the Paris COP21. Various forms of collaboration were mentioned. Among them was the possibility of exchanging data – within and between research collectives – and the questions and challenges that this would raise: what type of data? What level of confidentiality? Participants all agreed on the benefits of informal exchanges – especially through collective debriefings during the COP21. It was also decided that a mailing list would be set up to pursue the dialogue, and identify potential crosscutting themes.

The second day was devoted to a series of more formal presentations open to the public. Our intention was to present, beyond the strictly methodological dimension, the main results from different projects on transnational mega-events.

The first session focused on the previous day’s methodological issues. The idea was to focus on their significance when it comes to understanding the global environmental governance process. Noella Gray (University of Guelph) presented a common methodology for four different projects involving North-American academics and whose aim was to study transnational mega-events in the field of global biodiversity governance (IUCN global congresses in 2008 and 2014, Biodiversity COP and Rio+20). Presented as “collaborative event ethnography” – approach grounded on qualitative analysis and participant observation – their methodology undoubtedly constitutes one of the most elaborate and reflexive approaches to transnational mega-events. It has given rise to a number of timely publications. Jean Foyer (CNRS) then presented the main results from a collaborative study of Rio+20 (2012). His project framed the event as a “testing ground” for the broader project of ecological modernisation. Beyond its declared ambition to reconcile economic growth, development and environmental protection, the Rio+20 event also highlighted the existing geo-political tensions, contradictions between capitalist development and ecology, and the difficulty to include civil society.

The second session’s aim was to discuss the emergence of a global civil society through transnational mega-events. Johanna Siméant (Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne) presented two collective projects carried out during the World Social Forums in Nairobi (2007) and Dakar (2011). Beyond their methodological dimensions, both projects highlighted the importance of the linkages between the events and the African continent, and the particular place of African activism in the construction of the “alter-globalisation” movement more broadly. Clare Saunders (University of Exeter) presented the methodology that was used by a team of researchers coordinated by Christopher Rootes (University of Kent) in their study of the main climate march during the COP15 (Copenhagen). While such an approach raises a series of methodological difficulties – especially when it comes to the representativeness of the sample population –, it nevertheless offers some interesting results: for instance, the relative existence of a climate justice movement, far more visible in organizations and intellectual circles than among the grassroots activists taking part in the march.

The third session was more specifically centred on the COP21 negotiation. Stefan Aykut (LISIS) and Amy Dahan (Centre Koyré, CNRS) put the Paris 2015 negotiations into perspective by drawing on the broader context of global climate governance. They highlighted to need to go beyond the climate regime per se by focusing on other regimes and addressing questions that the climate regime hardly addresses (in particular, the energy question). They then presented possible ways forward in order to come up with a new “governance order” allowing for a much needed re-politisation of the climate question. Bjorn Ola Linner (Linköping University) presented a long-term analysis built on a series of questionnaires collected during COP side events since Bali in 2007. It not only offers interesting insights into the role of side events during COPs and on individual reasons for participating in COPs, but also on peoples’ perceptions of the negotiating process (mitigation, adequacy of measures…) depending on their status (NGO, negotiator…) and/or country of origin. Jonathan Kuyper then presented a study – jointly produced with Karin Backstrand – on the democratic procedures within UN Major Groups.

Finally, the fourth session focused on the media’s coverage of COPs. Two projects were presented. Elisabeth Eide (University of Bergen) and Risto Kunelius (University of Tampere) presented a series of results from the Mediaclimate project. They drew attention on the importance of national contexts in the media’s framing of transnational events. Hartmut Wessler (Universität Mannheim) presented a study on the interactions between journalists and NGOs. Through qualitative and quantitative studies during the COPs in Cancun, Doha and Warsaw, they offer a typology of different configurations of coproduction of information between journalists and NGOs. What comes out of this panorama is a certain interpretative proximity with regards to the climate debate.

Workshop presentations

* Stefan Aykut (LISIS) & Amy Dahan (Koyré / CNRS), The Iceberg, the Elephant and the Forest – taking a wider Look on Climate Governance

* Chris Roots (University of Kent) with methodological Notes by Clare Saunders, Studying COPs: conclusions and lessons from Copenhagen.

* Elisabeth Eide & Risto Kunelius, Studying transnational (media) events – Some experiences.

* Jean Foyer, Questioning ecological modernization: Crosscutting perspectives on Rio+20.

* Björn-Ola Linnér (Center for Climate Science and Policy Research and Department of Thematic Studies – Environmental Change, Linköping University), Preferences for Paris: Results from the International Negotiations Survey.

* Hartmut Wessler (University of Mannheim, Institute for Media and Communication Studies), based on research jointly conducted with Julia Lück and Antal Wozniak, Networks of coproduction.
How journalists and NGOs interact during UN climate change conferences.


Indicative Bibliography:

Aykut, S.C. et Dahan, A., 2015. Gouverner le climat ? 20 ans de négociations internationales. Paris, Les Presses de SciencesPo.

Baptandier, B. et Houdart, S. (éd.) (2015) Ethnographier l’universel – Shanghai 2010 : “Better city, better life” – 376 p.

Brosius, P., Campbell, L., 2010, Collaborative event ethnography : conservation and development trade-offs at the fourth world conservation congress, Conservation and Society, vol. 8, 4, p. 245-255

Campbell, Lisa M., Catherine Corson, Noella J. Gray, Kenneth I. MacDonald, and J. Peter Brosius. 2014. Collaborative Event Ethnography of the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Global Environmental Politics 14(3): 1-20.

Foyer, J. (coord) 2015. Regards croisés sur Rio+20 : la modernisation écologique à l’épreuve , Paris : CNRS éditions.

Little, P. E., 1995, Ritual, power and ethnography at the Rio Earth Summit, Critique of Anthropology, vol. 15 (3), p. 265-288.

Pommerolle M.E., Siméant J. (Coord.), 2008, Un autre monde à Nairobi, Le Forum Social 2007, Paris, Karthala.

Siméant, J. 2015. Guide de l’enquête globale en sciences sociales. CNRS éditions.

Siméant, J.; Sommier, I et Pommerolle, M.F. 2015 Observing protest from a place. The world social forum in Dakar, 2011. Amsterdam University Press.



Climatiser le monde, globaliser le climat

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