Post-doc: Policy perspectives on ecological chemical risk management

Posting: Two Postdoctoral Fellow Positions at McGill University

Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Start Date: January 2017 or as soon as possible

Salary: $45,000 per annum

Duration: 2 years, with possibility of 1 year extension

We are seeking candidates for two fully-funded Postdoctoral Research Associate positions. One position will be primarily supervised by Steve Maguire, Professor of Strategy & Organization in the Desautels Faculty of Management and Director of the Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management. The other position will be primarily supervised by Gordon Hickey, Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The successful candidates will conduct individual and team-based research on ecological chemical risk management, policy and regulation, with a particular focus on the role of institutional entrepreneurship in complex innovation systems. Both postdoctoral fellows will have substantial freedom to define their research focus as long as it aligns with the general focus on understanding (1) the organizational challenges posed by ecological chemical risk management, policy and governance; and (2) the process of deinstitutionalizing prevailing practices of ecological chemical risk management and institutionalizing new ones based on toxicogenomics. Initial areas of focus include:

  • How do institutional entrepreneurs transform the field of ecological chemical risk assessment by catalyzing the abandonment of prevailing practices and adoption of new ones based on toxicogenomics?
  • How can new practices based on toxicogenomics have the most significant – and beneficial, from the perspectives of diverse stakeholders – impact on ecological chemical risk assessment, policy and governance networks in terms of the outcomes they achieve?

Essential Duties: The primary responsibilities of the post-doctoral fellows (PDFs) will be to conduct innovative research and outreach in collaboration with a diverse group of university scientists as well as their industry and government partners. The specific duties will include literature reviews; stakeholder liaison activities; project management; data collection, analysis and interpretation (via ethnographic, qualitative and/or quantitative methods, depending upon each PDF's interest and experience); report writing; and the preparation of manuscripts in cooperation with the supervisors. The successful candidates will also be responsible for training graduate students and contributing to the development of competitive research grants as needed.

Application deadline: 31 October 2016. Only short-listed candidates will be notified.

161 Hits

Contesting Power

Acemoglu and Robinson's Why Nations Fail (2012) offers insight into why wealth and poverty exists (see post here). It also provides direction as to how more inclusive political and economic institutions are formed, which draws on their 2006 book, On the Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship. They open with a comment about the Arab Spring: "In this book we will argue that the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, not most academics and commentators, have the right idea. In fact, Egypt is poor precisely because it has been ruled by a narrow elite that have organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people." (p. 3) Towards the conclusion of the book, the idea of conflict is returned to: "Inclusive economic and political institutions do not emerge by themselves. They are often the outcome of significant conflict between elite resisting economic growth and political change and those wishing to limit the economic and political power of existing elites" (p. 332)

  • "Political institutions determine who has power in society and to what ends that power can be used. If the distribution of power is narrow and unconstrained, then the political institutions are absolutist… In contrast, political institutions that distribute power broadly in society and subject it to constraints are pluralistic. Instead of being vested in a single individual or narrow group, political power rests with a broad coalition of plurality of groups." (p. 80)
  • "The rule of law is a very strange concept when you think about it in historical perspective. Why should laws be applied equally to all? If the king and the aristocracy have the political power and the rest don't, it's only natural that whatever is fair game for the kind and the aristocracy should be banned and punishable for the rest. Indeed, the rule of law in not imaginable under absolutist political institutions. It is a creation of pluralist political institutions and of the broad coalitions that support such pluralism. It's only when many individuals and groups have a say in decisions, and the political power to have a seat at the table, that the idea that they should all be treated fairly starts making sense." (p. 306)

However, it has not only been violence and conflict:

  • "…there were other ways to influence Parliament and thus economic institutions. The most important was via petitioning, and this was much more significant than the limited extent of democracy for emergence of pluralism after the Glorious Revolution. Anybody could petition Parliament, and petition they did. Significantly, when people petitioned, Parliament listened. It is this more than anything that reflects the defeat of absolutism, the empowerment of a fairly broad segment of society, and the rise of pluralism in England after 1688. The frantic petitioning activity shows that it was indeed such a broad group in society, far beyond those sitting or even being represented in Parliament, that had the power to influence the way the state worked. And they used it." (p. 193)

They conclude not on the means, but the outcome:

  • "What is common among the political revolutions that successfully paved the way for more inclusive institutions… is that they succeeded in empowering a fairly broad cross-section of society. Pluralism, the cornerstone of inclusive political institutions, requires political power to be widely held in society" (p. 458)
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Colonial Impact & Legacy

  • Acemoglu and Robinson, in their widely read Why Nations Fail (2014), have an excellent example of the immediate and long-term legacy impacts of colonialism, which is worth quoting at length (p. 249-250):

The extractive institutions created by the Dutch in the Spice Islands had the desired effects, though, in Banda this was at the cost of fifteen thousand innocent lives and the establishment of a set of economic and political institutions that would condemn the islands to underdevelopment. By the end of the seventeenth century, the Dutch had reduced the world supply of these spices by about 60 percent and the price of nutmeg doubled.

The Dutch spread the strategy they perfected in the Moluccas to the entire region, with profound implications for the economic and political institutions of the rest of Southeast Asia. The long commercial expansion of several states in the area that had started in the fourteenth century went into reverse. Even the polities which were not directly colonized and crushed by the Dutch East India Company turned inward and abandoned trade. The nascent economic and political change in Southeast Asia was halted in its tracks.

To avoid the threat of the Dutch East India Company, several states abandoned producing crops for export and ceased commercial activity . Autarky was safer than facing the Dutch. In 1620 the state of Banten, on the island of Java, cut down its pepper trees in the hope that this would induce the Dutch to leave it in peace. When a Dutch merchant visited Maguindanao, in the southern Philippines, in 1686, he was told, "Nutmeg and cloves can be grown here, just as in Malaku. They are not there now because the old Raja had all of them ruined before his death. He was afraid the Dutch Company would come to fight with them about it." What a trader heard about the rule of Maguindanao in 1699 was similar: "He had forbidden the continued planting of pepper so that he could not thereby get involved in war whether with the [Dutch] company or with other potentates." There was de-urbanization and even population decline. In 1635 the Burmese moved their capital from Pegu, on the coast, to Ava, far inland up the Irrawaddy River.

…as in the Moluccas, Dutch colonialism fundamentally changed their economic and political development. The people in Southeast Asia stopped trading, turned inward, and became more absolutist. In the next two centuries, they would be in no position to take advantage of the innovations that would spring up in the Industrial Revolution. And ultimately their retreat from trade would not save them from Europeans; by the end of the eighteenth century, nearly all were part of European colonial empires.

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Why Nations Fail

Why Nations Fail (2012), by Acemoglu and Robinson, is probably one of the most influential development studies books of the last decade. Although the idea itself is not new, the authors make a details and persuasive argument that institutions are a primary reason for national wealth and poverty. They write: "The central thesis of this book is that economic growth and prosperity are associated with inclusive economic and political institutions, while extractive institutions typically lead to stagnation and poverty" (p. 91). In summary, they argue:

  • "Nations fail today because their extractive economic institutions do not create the incentives needed for people to save, invest, and innovate. Extractive political institutions support these economic institutions by cementing the power of those who benefit from the extraction. Extractive economic and political institutions, though their details vary under different circumstances, are always at the root of this failure." (p. 372)

The book offers numerous examples, past and present, developing and developed. In this regard, the book is rich in content for those seeking evidence of the importance of political and economic institutions. These examples include:

  • "The United States is far richer today than either Mexico or Peru because of the way its institutions, both economic and political, shape the incentives of businesses, individuals and politicians. Each society functions with a set of economic and political rules created and enforced by the state and citizens collectively." (p. 42)
  • "The modern Democratic Republic of Congo remains poor because its citizens still lack the economic institutions that create the basic incentives that make a society prosperous. It is not geography, culture, or the ignorance of its citizens or politicians that keep the Congo poor, but its extractive economic institutions. These are still in place after all these centuries because political power continues to be narrowly concentrated in the hands of an elite who have little incentive to enforce secure property rights for the people, to provide basic public services that would improve quality of life, or to encourage economic progress." (p. 90-91)

The authors present these examples without discounting or downplaying the role of colonialism and colonial legacies within these institutions (e.g. pages 9, 249), and without neglecting the purposeful creation of exclusion:

  • "In South Africa the dual economy was not an inevitable outcome of the process of development. It was created by the state. In South Africa there was to be no seamless movement of poor people from the backward to the modern sector as the economy developed. On the contrary, the success of the modern sector relied on the existence of the backward sector, which enabled white employers to make huge profits by paying very low wages to black unskilled workers. In South Africa there would not be a process of the unskilled workers from the traditional sector gradually becoming educated and skilled, as Lewis's approach envisaged. In fact, the black workers were purposefully kept unskilled and were barred from high-skill occupations so that skilled white workers would not face competition and would enjoy high wages." (p. 269)

There are opportune moments when change can occur, they describe as critical junctures, which are reinforced by positive (virtuous) or negative (vicious) feedback loops.

  • "The Black Death is a vivid example of a critical juncture, a major event or confluence of factors disrupting the existing economic or political balance in society. A critical juncture is a double-edged sword that can cause a sharp turn in the trajectory of a nation. On the one hand it can open the way for breaking the cycle of extractive institutions and enable more inclusive ones to emerge, as in England. Or it can intensify the emergence of extractive institutions, as was the case with the Second Serfdom in Eastern Europe." (p. 101)

And, glimpses of hope for contemporary examples of transitions to more inclusive economic and political institutions:

  • "The rise of Brazil since the 1970s was not engineered by economists of international institutions instructing Brazilian policymakers on how to design better policies or avoid market failures. It was not achieved with injections of foreign aid. It was not the natural outcome of modernization. Rather, it was the consequence of diverse groups of people courageously building inclusive institutions. Eventually these led to more inclusive economic institutions. But the Brazilian transformation, like that of England in the seventeenth century, began with the creation of inclusive political institutions." (p. 457)

Briefly, the book offers reflections on aid, based upon the findings of the book:

  • "…the cycle of the failure of foreign aid repeats itself over and over again. The idea that rich Western countries should provide large amounts of "developmental aid" in order to solve the problem of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, and South Asia is based on an incorrect understanding of what causes poverty. Countries such as Afghanistan are poor because of their extractive institutions – which result in lack of property rights, law and order, or well-functioning legal systems and the stifling dominance of national and, more often, local elites over political and economic life." (p. 452-453)
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Logan Cochrane

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