What I Did This Summer: Government Professor Laura Henry

Laura Henry, associate professor of government at Bowdoin, tells us a bit about her summer researching international politics in Russia:

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I spent part of this summer in Moscow, Russia, studying how global governance initiatives influence Russia’s domestic politics. Along with my colleague Lisa Sundstrom of the University of British Columbia, and funded by a Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council grant, I interviewed representatives of international and Russian NGOs who are attempting to promote global “best practices” on environmental, health, and human rights issues – and who often face opposition to their work domestically.

This research is part of a new project titled “The Comparative Politics of Global Governance,” which investigates how global initiatives related to climate, forestry, corporate social responsibility, and HIV/AIDS either succeed or fail in gaining a foothold in the developing countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, known collectively as the BRICS.

The BRICS states represent the future of global governance due to a combination of population size, relatively high rates of economic growth, natural resource endowment, and regional influence. If, for example, global initiatives designed to promote sustainable forestry or lower greenhouse gas emissions fail in these states, then they are unlikely to achieve their goals at the global level.

Current scholarship focuses on the design of global institutions and programs, but does not always follow up to see what happens when they are implemented in a particular political and cultural context.  Russia represents a hard case since the Putin regime has been more likely to resist global governance than to embrace it.

I’m still sorting through interview transcripts and documents that I collected, but preliminary data shows that global governance is expanding most effectively when it is tied to market incentives – such as under the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification program in which sustainably produced lumber and paper products gain access to premium wood markets. Culturally sensitive issues, like HIV/AIDS prevention programs, have met strong opposition.

Obviously, this is a tricky time to do research on international politics in Russia, and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine did create some challenges for us. What was surprising is that the debates around Ukraine didn’t seem to inhibit our Russian interviewees, but representatives of international institutions were cautious about maintaining their programs in Russia during a sensitive time.

thumb:Bowdoin students aboard the Arctic schooner Bowdoin