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Work In Progress

The Web of Responsibility in and for the Artic. Dr Hannes Hansen-Magnusson

26 March 2018

Work In Progress Seminar 21.02.2018

On the 21st of February the ISRU met for the Work In Progress seminar focused on the article and presentation of Dr Hannes Hansen-Magnusson entitled The Web of Responsibility in and for the Artic. Hannes has PhD from the University of Hamburg and an MA from the University of York. He is currently a lecturer at Cardiff University, prior to joining Cardiff worked as lecturer at the University of Hamburg. He specialises in the use of norms and ideas in international politics and global governance and has a special interest in the Artic.

This paper seeks to bring together two strands of Hannes’ research; his work on responsibility and his work on the Artic. The primary aim is to contribute to the literature around responsibility, who is responsible and what for, using the particularly interesting and rapidly changing case of the Artic.

Responsibility is a concept at the heart of current IR debates. According to Hannes the concept of responsibility is becoming a key policy norm bringing together ideas of sustainable development, responsibility to protect, and concern for the environment and human rights. In this article the Brundtland Report is seen as central and structuring component of the increasing institutionalisation of responsibility as an international norm. Published in 1987 the report emphasised the need of economic and human development to take place whilst respecting norms of responsibility, such as environmental responsibility. The report is viewed as major source of the increasing diffusion of sustainable development as a global policy norm. The Artic, as a rapidly changing environment and one in which sovereign territorial claims do not govern in the way in which they do in much of the international system, is a particularly interesting case to enable us to explore the concept of responsibility.

With this paper Hannes wants to explore the idea of capacity, as a key element in determining the functioning of ideas of responsibility. Responsibility is defined here as a contractual relation, begging the question; who is responsible and what for. A lot of literature focuses on different types of responsibility, material, social and legal whereas this research looks at the vital role of capacity. Capacity can refer to the ideational aspects but also the social expectations of what can be reasonably demanded of a particular actor.

The Artic, it is argued, highlights the importance of the notion of capacity within the web of responsibility. The centrality of capacity in the concept of responsibility concerning the Artic is particularly interesting, allowing non-traditional stakeholders such as indigenous populations, with their particular expertise concerning sustainable development and multi-national corporations who have both the infrastructure and stake in the Artic to become major interlocutors, to take a role in the politics of responsibility governance. Indeed, this paper elaborates the way in which institutions such as the Artic Council, comprised of several states and non state actors is actually functioning surprisingly well.

The ISRU agreed that the Artic, with its lack of territorial sovereignty and its rapidly changing environment, which, is acting to attract ever more actors who will more increasingly entangled in the web of responsibility governance, is an exceptionally interesting case study to explore ideas of responsibility and the notion of capacity.


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