1. How to Get Started?
2. What Is Science Diplomacy?
3. Who Are the Science Diplomacy Stakeholders?
4. How Does the EU Practice Science Diplomacy?
5. What Are the National, Regional and Thematic Approaches of Science Diplomacy?
6. What Set of Skills Do I Need to Be a Good Science Diplomat?
7. Hands On! Case Studies
8. How Can You Dive Deeper into Science Diplomacy?
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2.3.8 Can Science Diplomacy Tackle Societal Challenges?

As a matter of conclusion to these conceptualisations of science diplomacy covered in the previous topics, and also to compare national approaches more focused on soft-power interests versus global/societal challenges/interests, our S4D4C research fellow Ewert J. Aukes elaborates with this short essay for our readers:

Science diplomacy has successively been conceptualised as an instrument, mechanism or tool to further national interests in the world. If scrutinised like this, it figures as just another version of “diplomacies” – after cultural (“jazz”) diplomacy, water diplomacy, public diplomacy etc. –positioned to reap benefits from, in this case, international scientific collaboration for a notion of domestic progress. However, another corner of the scientific literature indicates that using scientific-diplomatic activities to these ends may not get us further when it comes to addressing, let alone tackling, what has been termed “societal” challenges, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In a globalizing world, contemporary grand societal challenges have been observed to be increasingly difficult to address by traditional means (Haas 2016; Kuhlmann and Rip 2018; Beck 2009). Among others, foreign policy and governing in general have seen shifts from centralized, top-down modes to more networked forms with new actors both multi- and sub-national pushing onto the scene (Hocking 2016; Rhodes 2007). Such developments increase the complexity and, thus, the difficulty of policymaking on all levels. Additionally, national and international policy initiatives linked to, for example, reducing poverty, crime, health threats, greenhouse gas emission or biodiversity deterioration are losing out against national political, sometimes protectionist struggles, short-sighted businesses and self-centred interests.

But there is more at play than these complications in the organization of (foreign) policymaking. In his proposal for a cosmopolitan view on national interests, the German sociologist Ulrich Beck pinpoints the fundamental difference in the nature of global policy problems and what has traditionally been framed as ‘national interest’. He argues that short-sighted economic solutions, unjust social arrangements and exceeding planetary boundaries on the global scale, have created a kind of policy problem that cannot be viewed from the perspective of “pluralist rivalry of people and states” (Beck 2009, 173). Rather, these kinds of problems, which can roughly be equated with what we consider societal challenges to be, remove this rivalry and present us with a purpose that affects us all in a similar way and binds us together – no matter the country of origin. Thus, a science diplomacy that can not only address, but preferably also tackle, societal challenges without the competitive, sometimes conflictual rivalry of old needs to take a different approach.

If the nature of societal challenges renders a ‘soft-power-oriented’ approach purely focused on protectionist interests unsuitable and undesirable, a new wave of ‘societal-challenge-oriented’ science diplomacy must endorse a discourse of collaboration, transparency and reciprocity (Ruffini 2020; Young et al. 2020; Aukes et al. 2021). What is more, a societal-challenge-oriented science diplomacy, which to our understanding is inherently collaborative, will have a hard time flourishing in circumstances of strained or even dysfunctional international relations. Prima facie, this is simply a matter of consecutive development or reinterpretation over time. However, ‘societal-challenge-oriented’ science diplomacy actually represents a profoundly different approach to the interactions of science and foreign policy. And these two visions of science diplomacy are difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile. In other words, in situations in which the collaborative ‘logic’ of science diplomacy is illogical (cf. Ruffini 2020), due to diverging value systems, interests and worldviews, societal challenges cannot be addressed through science diplomacy.

Read more

–      Aukes, Ewert, James F. Wilsdon, Gonzalo Ordóñez-Matamoros, and Stefan Kuhlmann (2021): Global resilience through knowledge-based cooperation: A New Protocol for Science Diplomacy. S4D4C POLICY BRIEF, forthcoming February 2021.
–      Beck, Ullrich (2009): Macht und Gegenmacht im globalen Zeitalter: Neue weltpolitische Ökonomie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
–      Haas, P. M. (2016): Social Constructivism and the Evolution of Multilateral Environmental Governance. In P. M. Haas (Ed.), Epistemic Communities, Constructivism, and International Environmental Politics (pp. 121-149). London: Routledge.
–      Hocking, Brian (2016): “Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.” In The SAGE Handbook of Diplomacy, edited by Costas M. Constantinou, Pauline Kerr and Paul Sharp, 67-78. Los Angeles: Sage.
–      Kuhlmann, Stefan, and Arie Rip (2018): “Next-Generation Innovation Policy and Grand Challenges.” Science and Public Policy 45 (4): 1-7 (Link)
–      Rhodes, Rod A.W. (2007): “Understanding Governance: Ten Years On.” Organization Studies 28 (8): 1243-1264 (Link)
–      Ruffini, Pierre-Bruno (2020): “Collaboration and Competition: The Twofold Logic of Science Diplomacy.” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 15 (3): 371-382 (Link)
–      Young, Mitchell, Charlotte Rungius, Ewert J. Aukes, Lorenzo Melchor, Elke Dall, Eliška Černovská, Eliška Tomolová, Laure-Anne Plumhans, Pauline Ravinet, Tim Flink, and Ana Elorza Moreno. 2020. The ‘Matters’ of Science Diplomacy: Transversal Analysis of the S4D4C Case Studies. S4D4C (Vienna) (Link)
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