Midterm Conference 2021: Looking Back and Forward Together

Event Reports

This year’s Midterm Conference: 'New Avenues of Global Cooperation' which transpired on 15th and 16th November 2021, offered an opportunity to reflect on the Centre’s past research agenda as well as to shed some light on the future of global cooperation. The event was also an opportunity for many alumni fellows to return to Duisburg and reconnect with former colleagues. The conference took place in the midst of Duisburg’s industrial past in the Hüttenmagazin within the Landschaftspark Nord and was presented as a hybrid event to give participants access and remain safe in uncertain times. This new event-format allowed for researchers from all over the world to participate in the conference, which led to diverse panels.

The conference began with an address from the Centre Director Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack and Co-Directors Prof. Dr. Jan Aart Scholte and Prof. Dr. Tobias Debiel. As the Centre has now reached the halfway point of its second funding period through the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) the conference represents an opportunity to revisit past achievements and address challenges to come. Moving into the next three-year phase, research will be focused on legitimacy in global cooperation and world orders. Especially important to the research agenda is the ongoing exchange with researchers from all around the world and from different research areas. An interdisciplinary environment allows for comparisons between different policy fields which in turn has cultivated fruitful dialogue. The conference's first day continued with panels discussing transdisciplinary encounters, polycentrism, re-imagining the global, the planetary, and internet governance.

At the outset of the conference offered perspectives on interdisciplinary dialogue, analyzing the working methods of the Centre itself, a panel organized by Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack and Prof. Dr. Jan Aart Scholte. In this context the importance of not merely formal exchange but also informal conversations with colleagues and being hospitable to different ideas was underlined in discussions. Also, the necessity of to combine “places of information” with “places of connection” was outlined. Discussed was further the importance of communicating research to the wider public and to giving access to findings during the first panel.

The theme of interdisciplinary research was discussed even more in the next panel on polycentrism, which was organized by Dr. Frank Gadinger and Prof. Dr. Jan Aart Scholte. The roundtable explored the fluidity of regulatory forces and multiplicity of authorities in transit migration and diaspora governance, border conflicts and good governance standards. The panelists opened up discussions about the complexity of power relations in global governance which involves ever more actors. The panel also explored what polycentrism can add to the understanding of governance; the panelists agreed that while it is not well temporal analysis, it can add to the analytical value of power.

The conference’s third panel took on the understanding of the global. The roundtable thus explored emerging world orders to understand different visions of how people will come together in the future, how fantasies serve as driving forces. Dr. Christine Unrau and Dr. Katja Freistein led the discussion and enriched it through their input from the ongoing the book project on world orders. Discussions explored the role of fantasies and imaginaries, taking up questions of how political imaginaries have been used to produce legitimacy for policies, especially the re-imaginging of asylum policies. Panelists agreed that through political creativity and shared community, values and trust which foster cooperation can be attained.

The fourth roundtable offered perspectives on environmentalism and climate change, a research field that has been part of the Centre’s agenda for a decade. Prof. Dr. Lauren Eastwood heads the policy field research on climate change and sustainability and organized this panel. During ‘Exploring the Planetary’, panelists discussed the inflections of global human politics on non-humans and the environment itself with regard to climate change and also international law. The roundtable offered up a new perspective on environmentalism but also gave the audience food for thought through provocative questions about the objectification of nature for human purposes.

The first day of the conference came to an end with a discussion about novel perspectives on internet governance, which was led by Prof. Dr. Jan Aart Scholte. Panelists offered insight into the role states play in governing the internet and data governance and asked the question of whether a new global perspective, transitioning from state governance to platform governance, might be necessary. The Centre’s policy research on internet governance is being directed by Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack and Prof. Dr. Jan Aart Scholte.

The second day of the conference continued with four further thought-provoking roundtables on peacebuilding interventions, migration governance, narratives of global cooperation and antiglobalist conceptions of world order.

The panel organized by Patricia Rinck on the justification and legitimacy of peacebuilding interventions drew out the tension between building trust on missions while still addressing local considerations how can peacebuilding missions can be designed in the future to lead to more sustainable outcomes? The Centre’s policy field director Prof. Dr. Tobias Debiel emphasized the importance of building knowledge prior to the intervention and selecting a few local partners to cooperate with. The day continued with a panel on the Center’s migration policy field, which is headed by Prof. Dr. Volker Heins. The panelists pointed towards the increasing complexity of migration governance due to the multiplicity of actors involved. Further narratives surrounding migration were discussed, as well as how imaginaries of crisis are sometimes created at on non-knowledge and ignorance to data.

The next panel explored narratives of global cooperation, and panelists with the moderation of Dr. Nina Schneider and Dr. Frank Gadinger discussed the importance of considering who is telling which story; in this way, one can begin to understand how and why other narratives might be either championed or overriding following from the social roles of the authors, which can lead to some voices and narratives and being heard. It was stressed that in an international context, local resources are increasingly important to combat the silencing of the other.

The final roundtable, organized by Dr. Christine Unrau and Dr. Katja Freistein, offered an intriguing exploration antiglobalist conceptions of world order between the political right and left. Contributors offered insight into their research, arguing that far-right movements have become more internationally connected which indicates that the figurative translation of events and idea into a political context has become more relevant within movements. The panel closed with a discussion about whether the left-right distinction is even still appropriate or useful, though panelists could not offer a definitive answer.

The conference concluded with another address by Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack and the Prof. Dr. Jan Aart Scholte who wrapped things up with words of encouragement about the importance of intercohort exchanges between current and former fellows. Attendees noted how importance interdisciplinary research while being vigilant to not adopt other disciplines weaknesses, which makes openness and dialogue even more important, researcher commented during the closing session that the conference has offered from a great opportunity for this. Ending on this optimistic note, the Midterm Conference curated an atmosphere of academic openness as we move to the next research phase.

Jasmin Schmitz