Pathways and mechanisms of global cooperation (2018 – 2020)

Research > Thematic field

A key focus of the Centre’s research in the period 2018–2020 was the temporal dimension of global cooperation. Researchers and fellows studied how cooperation processes unfold over time and which underlying mechanisms reinforce or undermine processes of cooperation in different regional and historical settings. A central goal was to identify patterns of collaboration between two or more parties, addressing a collective problem of global scale that might remain resilient in moments of crises. Our research encompassed both successful instances and failed attempts of global cooperation. By investigating how these past experiences facilitated or hindered further cooperation efforts, researchers and fellows aimed to shed light on essential themes, such as the resilience, reversibility, linearity, or adaptability of governance arrangements addressing collective problems of global scale.

A central contribution of the Centre’s interdisciplinary research highlights the performative role of imaginations of global cooperation as the basis for a novel, process-oriented research agenda. Building on empirical cases from diverse policy fields, regions, and historical periods, this research illustrates the agency of a wide range of actors in reflecting on past and present experiences and imagining future ways of collective problem solving. The Centre examined how imagination influenced the initiation, contestation, and adaptation of global cooperation pathways. It was discovered that imaginations can shape collaborative engagements through mobilizing, normative, cognitive, emotional, and identity-related effects. Whether imaginations become sufficiently powerful to have these effects and shape processes of cooperation depends on a variety of sources of influence. The Centre’s research identified the material and symbolic staging of imaginations in the present, the staging of past developments in the present, and the circulation and translation of imaginations between different audiences and locations as important sources of influence.

The Centre’s research approached global cooperation as a process rather than an outcome. It conceptualized pathways as temporal sequences, interconnected through institutional, organizational, or discursive mechanisms that shape global cooperation over time. Furthermore, it examined the involvement of civil society, public, and private actors from an institutional, organizational, and symbolic perspective. The institutional approach foregrounds how governance architectures evolve out of sustained patterns of cooperation, which in turn may foster or hinder future cooperation. However, institutions may also display inertia that undermines cooperation in a changing context. This, in turn, can evoke mobilization for institutional reform, removal, or replacement. From an organizational perspective, a variety of formalized as well as informal arrangements of cooperation come into view. Analysing their conditions for organizational reproduction, transformation, or dissolution helped to identify factors that contribute to sustainable global cooperation or lead to its failure. The question of what the drivers of change or stasis are, however, remains open. The Centre’s research found that collective sense making, narratives, and appeals to emotions are significant discursive mechanisms in creating, stabilizing, or undermining cooperative endeavours.

Key publications:

  • Freistein, Katja , Mahlert, Bettina , Quack, Sigrid and Unrau, Christine (2022) (eds). Imagining Pathways for Global Cooperation, Cheltenham/Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, Open Access, available at:
  • Fehl, Caroline and Freistein, Katja (2020) (eds). ‘International Institutions in a Stratified International Society: Reproducing and Transforming Inequalities’, Special Issue: Global Society, 34(3): 285–303.
  • Schapper, Andrea, Scheper, Christian and Unrau, Christine (2020) (eds). ‘The Material Politics of Damming Water’, Special Issue: Sustainable Development, 28(2).