Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment
Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment

Utrecht Winter School on Earth System Governance 2018

Date: 31 October 2018 - 04 November 2018
Location: Utrecht University

Academic directors
Dr Rakhyun E. Kim
Dr Joost Vervoort

Course coordinator
Sandra van der Hel

Application deadline: 16 April 2018

Course fee: €300

The 2018 Winter School on Earth System Governance will combine a series of highly stimulating lectures and dialogues with interactive ‘writeshops’ focusing on participants’ work-in-progress.

Lectures and dialogues: Lectures will be offered by senior researchers in the field and will focus on the five core themes of the new earth system governance science agenda. We will have multiple lectures reflecting on these themes from different perspectives. Each set of lectures will be concluded with a dialogue with the speakers and audience. The lectures and dialogues will provide an opportunity to critically reflect on the new science agenda from multiple perspectives.

Writeshops: The writeshops will focus on participants’ own work. The aim of the writeshops is to take the ideas from the science agenda forward into concrete projects and publications. We will work in small groups of people whose work addresses themes from the new science plan, combining short exercises with intensive writing and peer review sessions. At the end of the week, participants will have an improved piece of written work to take home.

The Winter School will focus on five themes that form the core focus of the new earth system governance research agenda [1].

1. Anticipation and Imagination

Increasingly, earth system governance includes proliferating processes of anticipating and imagining diverse futures, including through foresight and scenario building. How to govern anticipation processes, but also scrutinize the politics of governing by anticipation and foresight is a crucial and timely research agenda for the social and interdisciplinary sciences. Investigating the interplay between the role of anticipation in dealing with contextual challenges and the role of imagination in limiting and enabling practical action toward new futures is essential.

2. Adaptiveness and purposeful change

How can societies navigate change towards global sustainability? Adaptiveness and reflexivity are two core concepts of the new earth system governance agenda. The lens of adaptiveness connects related concepts such as vulnerability, resilience, adaptation, robustness, adaptive capacity and social learning. Reflexivity refers to the ability of actors and institutions to critically reflect on their own performance (especially their environmental impacts), and to reshape their goals, practices, and values accordingly in order to wisely navigate complex, contested, and changing human-environmental systems. Adaptiveness emphasizes responses to changing social and ecological conditions (which may be coordinated, self-organized, or emergent), while reflexivity emphasizes the centrality of critical scrutiny of prevailing values and practices in governing processes of change.

3. Architecture and Agency

Research on architecture and agency in earth system governance focusses on understanding the frameworks through which earth system governance occurs and how these frameworks change. The notion of architecture addresses the complexity of governance systems, while the concept of agency raises questions about the influence, roles and responsibilities of the different actors and agents that drive earth system governance. Over the last decade, researchers studying governance have increasingly highlighted the interaction between architecture and agency within governance systems. Combining these topics opens up new opportunities for understanding dynamics and change in environmental governance systems.

4. Democracy and Power

Democracy worldwide is under pressure from new configurations of power within states, notably the resurgence of populism and authoritarianism, often with a strident anti-environmental tenor. Political currents at the national level may in turn have far-reaching implications for the international community’s capacity to solve collective problems. In these conditions it is imperative to examine whether new conceptions of democracy and power can help make sense of — and craft responses to — these trends. Earth system governance research must also contend with the fact that the exercise of power extending well beyond conventional political institutions may influence global environmental change, not least through the ways in which business interests and dominant discourses shape patterns of production and consumption.

5. Justice and Allocation

Questions of justice and allocation are becoming central political discourses in a world with growing inequalities within and across national borders. However, the concept of justice is elusive and means different things to different people. In view of the complexity, key research questions are as follows: How can we advance interdisciplinary approaches to justice and allocation? Which new demands for justice and allocation are emerging in the context of profound transformations of the earth system? What types of steering have been helpful and not helpful to channel personal, regional, national and global worldviews towards more sustainable approaches to environmental rights and duties?

[1] These themes and their description are based on a draft of the new Earth System Governance Science and Implementation Plan, to be released prior to the 2018 Utrecht Conference on Earth System Governance.

Application deadline: 16 April 2018

> More information and application