News from the Mid-Term Conference Day One

Polycentrism, Fantasies of World-Building

The Centre's Midterm Conference, ‘New Avenues of Global Cooperation Research’, took place in a hybrid format on 15 and 16 November 2021 in the Hüttenmagazin, Lanschaftspark Duisburg, enhanced by online communication with various scholars around the world. During the first day, five panels produced lively debates: on transdisciplinary encounters at the Centre, on polycentricity as a concept for the study of global cooperation today, on critical fantasy and imagination as drivers of word-making, on the concept of planetary culture and novel perspectives of internet governance. In what follows, we focus on selected panels in more detail.

The first day of the conference began with a reflection on polycentric governance led by Frank Gadinger and Jan Art Scholte which provided insight into the Centre’s endeavour to understand the fluidity of regulatory forces as well as the multiplicity of centres of authority. The roundtable offered explorations of polycentrism as a concept, its empirical application, and relation to building democracy; the panel’s research surrounding polycentrism has been published in an International Studies Review Forum.

Maria Koinova, who organized the Forum, started the panel off by outlining the concept of polycentrism as ordered chaos in ever more complex governance. While the concept has mostly been used to explore climate governance, Koinova’s presentation offered a new perspective on the application of polycentrism by studying transit migration and diaspora governance. She presented a relational approach to studying regional processes through the lens of polycentrism to illuminate the social forces and relationships that motivate decision-making. Zeynep Sahin-Menuctek further outlined the techniques of polycentric governance theory and identified certain blind spots of the concept by highlighting the ongoing discussion surrounding the refugees at the Belarusian-Polish border. She further explained that polycentrism can elucidate the complex the dynamics of the different actors, such as public agencies, the European Court of Justice, news media, and NGOs. The concept however has a blind spot when oriented towards the temporality of in-depth historical analysis. Jens Steffek concluded the panel with a discussion of his research on norms as a way to construct order with the case of good governance standards. He argues that their adoption by private actors can have a positive effect on accountability. However, he further posited that the question of democratic embeddedness is a problematic one, as the power in a democratic system is meant to make the people the authors of policy, but in polycentric governance many different actors are involved in governance outcomes.

The first conference day continued with an exploration of the global re-imagined. The roundtable was moderated by Christine Unrau and Katja Freistein, who posed provocative questions to the panellists by asking in what ways can humans imagine a different future and how can we build on our ideas to inspire collective action? Inanna Hamati-Ataya answered these questions with a provocation to the audience, daring them to reflect on their conceptions of the past, and to let go of imaginations of the future based on what has been believed to be possible in the past. She argued that in this way, new variations of the possible can be achieved. Tamirace Fakhoury discussed political imaginations through focusing on the understanding of refuge and asylum instrumentalized by different states. She pointed out that political creativity has been used to frame current issues through past imaginaries of displacement, making the overall situation appear gloomier. Terry Macdonald suggested that we should focus on achieving creative agency which, in contrast to rational agency, is moving away from defined identities and thus seeks to define the presented problem before seeking to problem solve. Aşem Mert alluded to imaginaries being present everywhere which means that myths, utopias, and legends offer a way in which crisis, as well as new forms of cooperation can be organized. She explained that crisis motivates people to come together, explore different ways of cooperation, and imagine a future, and explored how fantasies can add to world-building.

Jasmin Schmitz