25 March 2014

Discourse, Global Risk and the Climate Change

Translating Ulrich Beck's Theory into an Empirical Research Agenda Relevant to IR Scholars

Research seminar of the Collège d'études mondiales with Sabine Selchow, post-doct of the chair Cosmopolitan risk communities | Ulrich Beck.

There has been a lively and critical discussion also within  international  relations (IR) about sociologist  Ulrich Beck’s theory  of reflexive  modernization  in general  and his concepts of ‘cosmopolitization’ and ‘global  risk’ in particular.  Contributions  to this discussion are often rich  and  useful  in  their  seriousness and  in  terms  of  how  their  engagements  with  Beck (re)sharpen their  own  positions.  Yet, they  are rarely exactly  about  Beck’s theory  and  its premises. This is because they  often  build  on a  misunderstanding  and / or ignorance  of what the core of his theory  is. What is often  overlooked  is that the focus, interest  of and motivation  for Beck’s theory is the argument  for and development of (the  grounds  for) an epistemological turn in the social sciences, which is grounded  in his distinct interpretation of the reality of contemporary  (national) societies as being shaped by a ‘really existing internal cosmopolitanization’1 (Wirklichkeitskosmopolitismus).

This paper  aims to  contribute  to  the  scholarship  in international  relations  by  translating Ulrich Beck's  theory  into  an empirical  research agenda that is relevant for IR scholars and their particular interests, i.e. enables studies beyond  distinct  sociological  concerns. Central to this aim are three interrelated  points. The first point is the insight that there is neither one ‘cosmopolitan’  kind  of  study  nor  one  ‘cosmopolitan’  object  of  study.  There  are  many possible  ones.   Second, and closely related  to  the first point,  key to  any empirical  study following  Beck’s theory  is the establishment  of a ‘cosmopolitan’  research foundation. 

The ‘cosmopolitan’  research  foundation   is  the  disticnt   observer  ground,   out  of  which  the ‘cosmopolitan’  object  of study arises. Empirical studies following  Beck cannot  be ‘simply’ and only about investigating  ‘something’  through a different lens but about, first of all, establishing this ‘something’  through a ‘cosmopolitan’ lens. Third, empirical studies in international  relations that aim to cash-in Beck’s theory require a methodological approach that is inspired  by discourse theoretical  premises, as an approach  that ‘by nature’ aims to produce   unexpected   insights,  rather  than  to  reproduce   in  and  through   its  underlying premises the world as we know it.

In  order  to  achieve  its  aim  the  paper  critically  engages  with  a  recent  article  entitled ‘Cosmopolitan communities of climate risk: conceptual and empirical suggestions for a new research agenda’2  by Beck and colleagues because, as the paper will show, in order to be true to  and cash in Beck’s suggestions  one actually needs to  go  (partly)  beyond  him, i.e. translating  Beck's  theory  into  an empirical  research agenda  relevant  to  IR scholars is a matter of going with Beck beyond Beck.

1  Beck, U. (2006) Cosmopolitan Vision, Cambridge:  Polity, p. 9. 
2  Beck, U. et al. (2013) ‘Cosmopolitan communities of climate risk: conceptual and empirical suggestions for a new research agenda’, Global Networks, 13 (1), 1-21.


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Venue : Le France
Localisation : salle 2
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