CALL FOR PAPERS – Environmental Policy-making in a Dynamic World

The Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (NIES) Research Symposium VI

Hornafjörður & Reykjavík, Iceland, May 15th – 19th 2012

Environmental issues tend to be complex, multi-faceted and often highly dynamic and their successful resolution thus usually calls for close collaboration between policy-makers and scientists, as well as between both these groups and civil society. There appear, however, to be substantial barriers which hinder the development of a proper dialogue between politicians and governmental officials on the one hand and specialists from the academic community on the other. These barriers apply, in essence, both to more established fields of environmental research, such as the various branches of the natural sciences, and to newer academic efforts and initiatives, such as those found within the Environmental Humanities.

There are many possible explanations for these barriers – e.g. different cultures of work and communication, different time-frames of research vis-a-vis policy implementation, unequal power relations, divergent political or scientific goals, and even a simple lack of interest in engaging in the necessary interactive dialogue, both among elected officials and academic specialists. Both groups, furthermore, tend to have problematic relationships with civil society, e.g. with Environmental NGOs, which are often critical towards policies laid down by the government. ENGOs and environmental scientists, on the other hand, do not always see eye to eye as a result of, among other things, the inevitable politicization which happens when knowledge and knowledge-production is moved from the closed circuit of academia into the wide-open fields of societal, cultural and political interactions found within the public sphere.

Environmental policy-making is thus, obviously, not only about environmental issues per se but also and concurrently about knowledge production and dissemination, communication and discommunication, power relations, legitimacy, value formation and a host of other issues which are political and/or socio-cultural. In view of these considerations, it seems obvious that the Environmental Humanities have much to contribute to analyses of the barriers to successful environmental policy-making and if scholars in this field aim indeed to have any impact on environmental policy at all they must be prepared to carry out their work in a critical and independent manner.

The Sixth NIES Research Symposium in Iceland seeks to deal with such issues through a focused and interactive program involving scientists and scholars from numerous academic disciplines, elected officials and representatives of government institutions involved in environmental policy-making, as well as representatives of ENGOs.

The central focus of the symposium concerns the role of the Environmental Humanities in policy-making on environmental issues – what this role might be, what its relevance and importance is, and how a humanities-policy interface can best be achieved. There are several facets to these questions, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Is there a need to develop new interfaces between the academic community and democratically elected officials in order to foster dialogue between them on environmental policy-making?
  • Is it possible (or feasible) to strike a balance between democratic mandates and specialist knowledge in the formation of environmental policies?
  • What can the humanities contribute to environmental policy-making beyond that of other academic domains (e.g. the natural or social sciences)?
  • What is the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation in environmental policy-making, both within the Environmental Humanities and between the humanities and other academic domains?
  • How important is increased engagement with environmental policy to the development of the Environmental Humanities as an academic field?
  • What political and scientific literacies / competencies must be prioritized within the emerging field of the Environmental Humanities?
  • What humanistic and cultural literacies / competencies should Environmental Humanities scholars aim to communicate more effectively and develop as a knowledge resource that may be mobilized to greater effect in the work of scientists and policy-makers?
  • Should environmental scientists and scholars cooperate more directly with representatives of civil society and, if so, what effect could such a development have on the relations of either of these groups with elected officials?
  • Should Environmental Humanities scholars seek to involve the public more fully in their research efforts, e.g. through trans-disciplinary research, greater community outreach, cooperation with the media, partnership with business and industry, etc?

Papers may deal with environmental policy-making in general or choose to focus on one or more specific environmental issues, such as landscape, biodiversity, sustainable development or global climate change. Presentations concerning actual case studies of academic involvement with environmental policy-making are especially welcome. All papers should be in English. Participants in the research symposium will also be invited to submit their papers for publication in a peer-reviewed volume of articles anticipated to appear in the Rodopi series Studies in Environmental Humanities.

Paper proposals are welcome from scholars based in the Nordic countries, particularly from members and affiliates of NIES.  A limited number of proposals can also be considered from scholars outside this region.

Please send your abstract (no more than 150-200 words) and a very brief (one-page) CV to Dr. Thorvardur Arnason no later than 31 March 2012.

You will be notified regarding the status of your submission during the first week of April 2012. Those selected to present papers will have their lodging and board provided by the symposium organizers for up to five days and nights in Reykjavík and Hornafjörður, Iceland 15-20 May 2012. Participants’ home institutions are expected to cover the costs of their transportation to and from the symposium. In the event that their home institutions cannot subsidize their travel, presenting participants may be eligible for support from NIES to help defray travel costs if the trip takes place within the Nordic countries.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Prof. Sverker Sörlin, environmental historian, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
  • Prof. Þóra Ellen Þórhallsdóttir, ecologist, University of Iceland
  • (we are awaiting for confirmation from three other possible keynote speakers)

The research symposium is jointly organized by the Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (NIES) and the University of Iceland´s Hornafjörður Regional Research Center.

The research symposium will take place in two different locations, and each program component will have its own theme. The main part of the symposium will take the form of a three-day conference in the Nýheimar Knowledge Complex in Höfn, Hornafjörður, dealing with the theme Environmental Policymaking in a Dynamic World as outlined above. This will then be followed by a one-day colloquium held at the main campus of the University of Iceland in Reykjavík with the title The Environmental Humanities in Iceland. The colloquium is intended for the presentation of Icelandic research on environmental issues, from different humanistic perspectives, that may not readily fall under the theme of the main part of the symposium.

For questions regarding submissions please contact Dr. Thorvardur Arnason; for questions of a more practical nature please contact NIES assistant Susanna Lidström. Updates on the symposium will be posted on the NIES website as the event draws nearer.

Information about Höfn in Hornafjörður and the Vatnajökull Region and pictures from Nýheimar.