This summary of the highlights from the recent ECPR conference is written by Mari Elken who works as a researcher at NIFU, and is finishing her PhD at the University of Oslo, the Hedda coordinating institution. She is also a former Hedda Master programme graduate and current editor of the Hedda blog.
The ECPR General Conference in 2014 was held between 3-6 September at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. The conference took place just over a week before the Scottish referendum, and as such, the city was not only flooded with political scientists, but also political campaigners from both sides, even if the “yes” side seemed to be dominating the public space.
The conference overall is huge, as usual. With over 2500 political scientists from all over the world, the event truly provides an arena for discussing the state of the art of the field. Higher education and research policy continued the tradition of being represented by a collection of panels in the Europe of Knowledge section. While this merely represents one section amongst 66, this nevertheless marks also continuity, as the section focused on Europe of Knowledge has now been present at ECPR conferences since 2011, and as such continues the success of the Europe of Knowledge section in previous years. For sure, the panels this year also included many high quality papers and interesting new avenues for research related to knowledge policies in Europe.As usual, the main roundtables and keynotes were not directly relevant to higher education as such. The main keynote lecture was held by Iain McLean from the University of Oxford whose lecture was titled “Parliaments in Fiscal Federalism: Spending too Much, Taxing too Little?”. Furthermore, two roundtables were held, with focus on democracy and human rights.
What is typical for ECPR is that it is the paper presentations at the panels that take up most of your time. This year, Europe of Knowledge section was chaired by Mitchell Young (Charles University in Prague) and Meng-Hsuan Chou (Nanyang Technological University), and it was composed of five panels:
- Comparative higher education regionalism (chaired by Mitchell Young, with Pauline Ravinet as discussant)
- Converging modes of governance: academic-oriented science (chaired by Dagmar Simon, with Tim Flink as discussant)
- Opening the “black box” of political actors in the Europe of Knowledge (chaired by Dragan Mihajlovic)
- Regulatory science – transformations at the science-policy-public nexus (chaired by Rebecca-Lea Korinek, with Holger Strassheim as discussant)
- The “big” ideas in the Europe of Knowledge (chair/discussant Meng-Hsuan Chou).
Each of these panels had 4-5 papers presented, accumulating to a substantial number of papers. One of the panels also marked a emerging research focus on the role of regionalism in higher education. There, Susana Melo (University of Nottingham) examined the relations between the Council of Europe and the Bologna Process through the lens of new regionalism, Susan Robertson (University of Bristol) examined the diverging dynamics of regionalism across various continents, Meng-Hsuan Chou and Pauline Ravinet presented a new research project on regional initatives, and Martina Vukasovic and Jeroen Huisman examined a number of smaller countries in Europe to examine Europeanisation and policy transfer as means for legitimising domestic preferences in policy processes. In the panel focused on the political actors, papers were presented that examined various kinds of actors – by examining the role of political parties (Jens Jungblut, University of Oslo), or European level actors (Amelia Veiga, Antonio Magalhaes and Alberto Amaral) or the mobility patterns of top researchers (Maarja Beerkens). Perhaps unsurprisingly the panel focused on the big ideas primarily had focus on excellence, mobility and the knowledge-based economy as key concepts, where this was examined from a comparative perspective (Mads Sørensen, Carter Bloch and Mitchell Young) as well as examining it in the context of the Nordic countries (Lars Geschwind and Romulo Pinheiro). The remaining panels with focus on research governance had a more clear focus on science and technology studies.
Of particular interest from an higher education perspective is that this section on Europe of Knowledge brings together researchers on higher education, as well as those focusing on research policy, and science and technology studies. As such, this section also provides a fascinating combination of theoretical and methodological perspectives – combining research from vastly different epistemological starting points. While there is still more ground to cover and the groups can become even more mixed, these debates across fields can also provide a starting point for boundary-pushing research in the future.
This collaboration between the fields was also noted as a personal highlight by Jens Jungblut: “My personal highlight of this year’s ECPR conference were the intresting debates in the section addressing the Europe of Knowledge. Especially the cooperation between higher education researchers and scholars from science and technology studies was very inspiring.” One can hope that these cross-field and cross-boundary debates will continue, as it really seemed to be the case that in some occasions the conclusions were rather similar where the methodology and analytical concepts that led you there were rather different.
Furthermore, what was delightful was that these debates also continued during the dinner for the section, where presenters, discussants and chairs of the whole section gathered. These more informal settings also provide an important starting point for further collaborations, this I am sure of. The conference taking place in Glasgow provided also a really wonderful scene for the reception at the Kelvingrove Gallery and Museum – with elephants and airplanes as the background.
In addition to the Europe of Knowledge section, the section “Governing Knowledge: Policy and Politics of Knowledge Production and Use” provided a number of interesting insights. With panels ranging from focus on think tanks, to the role of expertise in democratic processes, to the use of knowledge in disaster management, this section also included panels with focus on the role of ideas and indicators in science policies and research management, where papers were presented on the transformative power of research evaluation (Emanuela Reale, CNR-CERIS) and how focus on rankings transforms research work (Paul Wouters and Sarah De Rijcke – Leiden University).
An important driver for the Europe of Knowledge section is the ERA-CRN network that includes a numbe of the presenters in this section, and that also included a lunch arrangement at ECPR to gather people with interest in these topics. With an explicit focus on European Research Area (ERA) as well as European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the network brings together researchers from two research traditions that had previously been somewhat separated as groups. If you have interest in these topics, be sure to become a member – aside the Europe of Knowledge section, the network also organises a number of workshops and events throughout the year.
From this year, the conference will take place annually, and the 2015 conference also signifies ECPR going global, with the conference being arranged in Montreal, Canada. This is a new development for a conference that this far has taken place biannually and within Europe. What we already know is that there will definitely be a proposal for a section on Europe of Knowledge, with a range of interesting panel ideas already circulated and discussed. So fingers crossed for a successful application and for more fascinating presentations next year!