Dienstag, 23. Juni 2020, 13:30

Multilateralism as a ‘site’ of struggle over environmental knowledge: the marine biodiversity case

Online ITA-Seminar: Alice Vadrot (Uni Wien), Politologin, ERC Grant


The measures taken to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus have not only challenged our social and economic lives worldwide. They have also put on hold several international negotiations related to environmental protection. By assembling a diverse array of actors within the highly structured setting of international diplomacy, multilateral environmental negotiation settings set the stage for the recognition of legitimate voices in global environmental politics. As a result, they constitute key ‘sites’ for debate over environmental values and legitimate knowledge.

The aim of this talk is to discuss why multilateral spaces are key battlegrounds for environmental knowledge and how ethnography can open up new avenues for studying the role of (scientific) knowledge in global environmental politics. The debate over environmental knowledge bears the deep mark of long-standing global imbalances and recent calls to shift environmental values and epistemology. Research has pointed to the unequal distribution of authority and power among actors, and the effect this has on their ability to shape multilateral environmental agreements (Suiseeya and Zanetti 2019; Hughes and Vadrot 2019).

I will use the example provided by current negotiations on the protection of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) to illustrate why we need new methodological apparatus if we wish to empirically study and understand how global imbalances related to science and technology shape the ability of actors to determine the outcome of text-based negotiations. The case of marine biodiversity clearly shows that research into the twin practices of using and contesting science in multilateral fora should be combined with an empirical analysis of the relevant scientific field, namely: the global distribution of scientific expertise; the emergence of new concepts and framings; the conditions for, and effects of scientific cooperation between the Global North and Global South; and factors affecting the recognition of knowledge worldwide. 


Alice B.M. Vadrot is Assistant Professor in international politics at the Department of Political Science, University of Vienna, Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy of the University of Cambridge, and member of the Young Academy of the ÖAW. She is co-editor of the special section “Methodological Innovation in the Study of Global Environmental Agreement Making” published in Global Environmental Politics (19, 2). In her ERC project MARIPOLDATA she combines ethnography during marine biodiversity negotiations with the study of scientific fields.


Alice B.M. Vadrot

Department of Political Science, University of Vienna, Wächtergasse 1, 1010 Vienna, Austria   


Seminar language: English