CFP: Toolbox of Environmental Governance: Numbers, Metrics, and Acronyms

2-4 December 2020

Organisers: Sverker Sörlin, Sabine Höhler, Gloria Samosir, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstracts due: 12 June 2020

Discourses of environmental governance make conspicuous use of what can be described as abridged, standardized objects. Whether it is calls to limit the average global temperature rise to “1.5 degrees Celsius” in accordance with the “IPCC report,” keep CO2 emissions “below 2 tons” per person per year “by 2050,” heed “GDP growth” in relation to environmental welfare, save the world’s rainforests, which have dwindled by “1.3 million square miles” in “the last 25 years,” or relocate Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta, which is sinking “5 to 10 cm” every year, assertions about ways to govern the environment are inundated with numbers, metrics, and acronyms of various kinds. Although in policy or advocacy communication, such expressions tend to be invoked authoritatively, to forceful practical and rhetorical effect, they arguably do not merely represent self-evident facts about the environment. Rather, they are produced and propagated through protracted scientific and political work, render environmental entities governable by subjecting them to acts of quantification, simplification, standardization, and prognostication, and, once firmly cemented into the broader framework of environmental governance, appear to fossilize into elements that bear a life and potency of their own. They may be deployed to rouse a sense of threat, project imminent futures, gather political support, promote particular conduct, or otherwise evoke action or affect.

This workshop aims to explore numbers, metrics, and acronyms (one could append to this indefinitely; e.g. units, quotas, targets, indicators, thresholds, …) as basic instruments that make up the Toolbox of Environmental Governance. The workshop seeks to investigate the many ways in which such devices have been used to construct and maintain the environment as a governable entity. How did they enter the “toolbox” to begin with and become fixtures of environmental governance—through what kinds of social, political, scientific, and historical processes? How might a particular number, metric, or acronym be seen to acquire significance beyond the surface level scientific information it apparently denotes?

Toolbox of Environmental Governance is organized in affiliation with SPHERE, an ERC-funded project that examines the rise of global environmental governance in historical perspective. If you, too, are keen to engage in critical and comprehensive conversations surrounding the themes and questions described above, let us know! Please submit an abstract (max. 400 words) and a brief biography to Gloria Samosir: [email protected] by June 12, 2020. We welcome submissions from a broad range of disciplines, including but not limited to History of Science, Environmental History, Environmental Humanities, Science & Technology Studies, Geography, Law and Legal History, Development Studies, and Political Science. It is our ambition that the workshop will result in a publication with contributions from participants.

We expect the workshop to be face to face as a first hand alternative. Costs of travel and accommodation for invited speakers will be covered by the workshop organizers. Remote participation will be possible. If travel is restricted, we will adapt accordingly.

For any further questions or concerns, please contact Gloria Samosir: [email protected]


Sabine Höhler

KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment
Teknikringen 74 D
SE-100 44 Stockholm

+46 8 790 87 41
[email protected]

For more information see:

Image: Thomas Peacock Ltd. Collection of Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, col.2748. CC-BY-4.0.