The Centre would like to extend a warm welcome to Professor Lauren Eastwood, who joined our team on May 3rd as a Senior Researcher as well as our Climate Change and Sustainability Policy Field Convener. She will be with us until the end of our current funding period in January 2024. Professor Eastwood brings with her a wealth of experience and a focus on how global cooperation is accomplished in the making of environmental policy under the auspices of the UN. Straddling the mandates of both of our research groups, Professor Eastwood’s expertise will help to augment and develop the Centre’s focus on global cooperation in the domain of environmental policy making and sustainability.
Lauren’s research has centered on institutional ethnography, environmental sociology, green transitions/degrowth, and political ecology. Her foray into the UN began with field research at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 1998. Over the years, she has continued her engagement with the UN, attending policy sessions around the globe and participating in research fellowships in Japan and Australia. During her time at the Centre, she will be working on a research project called 'Global Environmental Governance in Practice: Ethnographic approaches to investigate the global’.
The research within the UN provided the basis for her PhD dissertation and informed her interest in how legitimizing frameworks that governments deploy are contested or leveraged in the context of non-governmental participants’ engagement with the policy processes. These frameworks have a lot to do with how particular language is deployed in actual policy documents and can be instrumental to understanding how key components are situated, as well as the consequences of their presence or absence.
In her 2018 book, Negotiating the Environment: Civil Society, Globalisation and the UN (Routledge, UK), Professor Eastwood drew on 20 years of experience in observing the policy making processes of the UN. Among other topics, the work explored the ways in which non-state actors obtain their ‘seat at the table’ in the process of policy making, with particular emphasis in the participatory language conventions used to make their voices heard.
‘Bringing a different set of interests to the table, civil society participants often state their need to maintain a presence in spaces of global environmental governance in order to assert the legitimacy of human rights, traditional knowledge, alternatives to neoliberal commodification of nature, and, indeed, the continued participation of non-state actors in government-based institutions.’
The observations at the UN were informed by the methodology of institutional ethnography, which, Professor Eastwood explains, ‘aims to start with the everyday world of people in a particular setting, but also to be able to say something about how the work of people in that setting is organized by extra- or trans-local social relations’. In observing actual practitioners engaged in the making of policy, one can gain insights into their sophisticated work knowledges which they have built up over time in a particular setting. Institutional ethnography also takes seriously literature that investigates the larger terrain of factors that organize what can and cannot be achieved in a given setting. ‘There are larger discourses and ideas that are fundamental to global governance’, Eastwood states, ‘it doesn’t just happen without actual people engaging in practices that facilitate or contest global governance’.
Shortly after joining the team, Professor Eastwood acted as discussant with recent Käte Hamburger Lecturer Professor Dale Jamieson, and sought to guide the discussion toward an evaluation of the ways in which environmental policy under democratic governance is deeply intertwined with the dominant economic concerns of the capitalist system. ‘We can understand these impasses as being not just about sort of a cynicism or a self-interest, but also about the fact that there are very real ways in which governments are beholden to their economic systems’. The ideological thinking behind the association of democracy with capitalism therefore needs to be problematized and examined in order to understand what can actually be accomplished through negotiation and policy making.
The idea of ‘conceptual currency’ also forms an important part of the ethnographically-informed observations in Professor Eastwood’s work. The term refers to the fact that participants in policy processes tend to be very savvy as to what sorts of language needs to be used in order for their interests to make their way into the debates and deliberations.
Taking up the discourse of 'participation' or 'transparency', and tying it back to actual decisions that were previously agreed upon by consensus in the deliberations, is a really strategic way to gain access and assert influence around the policy making table.
The ways in which Indigenous groups obtain this conceptual currency in the policy making process has become a central component in global environmental policy. ‘Under the climate negotiations’, writes Professor Eastwood, ‘there have been policies organized around the idea that forests, primarily in the Global South, should have a value so that they can better be preserved/conserved.’ Initiatives like ‘Avoided Deforestation' and ‘Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’, which have been put in place by UN bodies, seem to address key areas of concern in environmental policy. In practice, however, NGOs and Indigenous peoples' organizations have argued that these programs ended up creating a further context for land grabs and add to the already tenuous land tenure arrangements of marginalized Indigenous peoples. This neoliberal imperative for economic growth is often at odds with sustainable initiatives as well as the concerns of Indigenous communities. It can result in policy negotiations which ‘end up skirting around the fundamental root causes of environmental harm’.
We look forward to the nuance that Professor Eastwood and her research will contribute to the Centre and to the widening and refining of the policy fields to which we give critical attention.