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WSDS20 CHRONICLES: History & the Future

Day 2 of InsSciDE’s virtual Warsaw Science Diplomacy School (WSDS, 22-26 June 2020) saw Daniel Gamito-Marques and Sam Robinson presenting historical case studies that broach topics of 19th century colonialism and the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Björn Fägersten then introduced the concept of leveraging history (and the imaginary future) for developing strategies.

This article is a part of the ’WSDS20 Chronicles’, which recount the sessions and explore the outcomes of the first edition of InsSciDE’s Warsaw Science Diplomacy School (WSDS). See also:
WSDS20: Week’s Overview
WSDS20: Health Diplomacy Open Session
WSDS20: Historical Analysis and Future Scenarios

See also ’Student Takes’ articles, written by the WSDS20 alumni:
Overview: Traversing boundaries during a virtual week in Warsaw
Team Biodiversity/Le Roux: Towards a Joint Approach for EU Science Diplomacy
Team Ocean/Robinson: Science Diplomacy and the Litter at Sea
Team Scramble for Africa/Marques

Daniel Gamito-Marques started off Day 2 with his case study centering on the Scramble for Africa, the period 1881-1914 when European powers raced for land and resources in Africa, which spurred post-presentation discussions about colonial exploration and exploitation fuelling scientific knowledge and research, and the other way round.

Portuguese zoologist Barbosa du Bocage, the focus of Marques’ InsSciDE research, became a high official in the foreign ministry due to his specialty in Southwestern African fauna, personal scientific network and understanding of the Angolan government – established as he sought specimens for his museum. In fact, several European diplomatic actors in the Scramble for Africa were scientists. Marques also remarked that treaties established with the local African kingdoms for research were often used as leverage in negotiations among colonial powers in which those same kingdoms were entirely excluded and disregarded – denoting a rather perverse exercise of science in diplomacy.

The follow-up discussion touched on the issue of lingering institutional racism and noted the study’s relevance to today’s movement to tackle racial injustices and ‘dethrone’ statues honouring colonists and slave traders. Analogous cases also emerged in conversation, such as funding for Charles Darwin’s voyage being motivated by colonial speculation and science similarly being leverage in defining oceanic borders, which was remarked by student Andrei Polejack and served as the perfect segue to the next presentation on UNCLOS.

Sam Robinson’s case study examines the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and how the rapid diversification of scientists providing knowledge to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) shifted focus away from resource exploitation by a small group of powerful nations towards a collaborative transnationalist approach that included the newly independent nations of the Global South.

Robinson highlighted the significant policy impact of sociotechnical imaginaries, who depicted images of the oceans holding ‘multidimension riches’ and predicted advancements in technology that could foster a form of neo-colonialism for their attainment. Robinson recounted that advocates of military interests, scientific research, environmental protection and exploitation of marine resources were pitted against each other, prompting questions from students about the status of respective agendas today. Although UNCLOS was a notable co-production by scientific and diplomatic actors, Robinson conceded that the treaty holds little clout today and the oceans remain ‘effectively lawless’, foreshadowing analysis and problem-solving that Team Robinson would undertake in the following days of WSDS.

Transitioning from retrospective presentations to the future scenarios strategy workshop, Björn Fägersten explained that history and imaginary future scenarios can be leveraged in similar ways to inform decision-making in the present. He emphasized that good strategies are reflective of their environment and account for uncertainty by being both robust and flexible.

Fägersten’s presentation also brought perspective to European processes of developing and applying strategies, as well as the EU’s major institutional challenges: capacity to implement, cohesion with and between member states, and context in which the EU is perceived as a legitimate actor. He argued that science diplomacy is primarily recognized as a tool for pursuing national interests, such as scientific, technological or economic development. Therefore, planning and constructing an EU science diplomacy strategy – part of a WSDS mock-deliverable as well as a formal deliverable of the InsSciDE project – must consider what kind of powers are or could be delegated to the EU.

Following Fägersten’s talk, the students broke out into their pre-assigned case study Teams. Designed to foster in-depth discussions across disciplines and world regions, these small groups are integral to the structure of InsSciDE’s WSDS (2020 and 2021) and they assumed a particularly vital role in this year’s virtual format. The WSDS mock-deliverables – one on strategic policy reform related to their case study theme and another on risk, safety and security (Day 4) – were crafted in this environment (read more in the WSDS Overview). Student evaluations revealed that these interdisciplinary peer dialogues were often the most rewarding elements of the school and helped create the intimate and dynamic culture that defined WSDS.

Tweet by InsSciDE Advisor Dr. Marga Gual-Soler, quoting a tweet by WSDS student Stephany Mazon following WSDS Day 2

Published 27 July 2020

DAY 2 WSDS 2020: Historical Analysis & Future Scenarios
Tuesday 23 June 2020

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