Environmental governance research: Interdisciplinary, Policy-oriented - and Cumulative?

Activity: Talk or presentationConference PresentationsResearch

Michael Rose - Speaker

Jens Newig - Coauthor

Environmental governance is a quickly growing interdisciplinary area of research that combines contributions from more established disciplines such as political science, international relations, public administration and planning, geography, economics, and sociology. Perhaps more than traditional environmental politics or policy research, governance research aspires to be policy-relevant. In order to provide an evidence base that is taken seriously by policy-makers, governance research needs to produce relevant, reliable and trusted knowledge on pressing issues of what governance arrangements work best to effectively address urgent environment issues. Arguably, such knowledge needs to be of a cumulative nature, where new research refines, challenges, complements or synthesizes existing research.
There is, however, a growing recognition that environmental governance research is facing serious challenges to produce trusted, cumulative knowledge about what governance arrangements “work” under what conditions. The research area’s topics, approaches, concepts, geographies, research questions and methods are so diverse that research often occurs in parallel universes. Concepts are seldom used consistently across studies. The field is dominated by single case studies wanting synthesis and integration. Shared analytical frameworks are rare. And while the works of others are of course cited, existing research is rarely truly challenged or built upon in such a way that genuine scientific progress would emerge.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of how and where environmental governance research does cumulate (and where it does not), we study the sub-community of ‘Earth System Governance’ (ESG) research as a prototypical example. To this end, we identified 362 published papers from seven ESG conferences, of which we analyse a random set of 100 publications. We show descriptive statistics and network graphs to characterise this body of research. The resulting set of 100 journal papers were coded for their theoretical, conceptual, normative-prescriptive or empirical orientation. Empirical papers are coded for a qualitative, quantitative, interpretive or meta-analytical research approach, and whether they can generally be regarded as positivist or constructivist. We coded in what way papers add to, refine, challenge or synthesise existing research, and in what way they contribute to developing shared frameworks, definitions or datasets.
Overall, we find that knowledge cumulation is still poorly developed within the ESG community. Like the field of environmental policy and governance more generally, ESG research may be characterised as a “fragmented adhocracy” (Whitley), explaining the widespread failure to produce robust and cumulative knowledge).


ECPR General Conference 2022


Insbruck, Austria

Event: Conference