Janina Grabs is a visiting scholar with the School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) and a PhD student at the University of Münster in Germany. She shared this reflection of her time at Carleton thus far.
As I look out at the swirling snowflakes and the icy river, it crosses my mind yet again that there could be no better place and time to hunker down and write than in the midst of a Canadian winter.
However, being a visiting researcher at the Carleton School of Public Policy and Administration brings many more benefits than just environmental cues to stop procrastinating on my PhD thesis: notably, the rich and constantly rewarding exchange with leading scholars in my field; an inspiring work environment that allows me to learn about many additional facets of effective public policy action; and an enthusiastic and welcoming academic community that demonstrates the stereotypical Canadian friendliness in every single interaction.
I have the great fortune of being hosted by SPPA Director Graeme Auld, who is cross-appointed to the Institute of Political Economy. His work on private regulatory governance, and the emergence and evolution of certification schemes, inspired and deeply influenced my own research agenda, which evaluates the effectiveness of private sustainability standards in improving the environmental and social practices of Latin American coffee farmers. This confluence of interests leads to incredibly engaging discussions, both on how to refine aspects of my PhD thesis and on the greater landscape of theoretical approaches to private regulatory governance and its problem-solving potential.
By serendipitous circumstance, the latter discussion was further enriched by the fact that Benjamin Cashore from Yale University was in town as the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment. We have since jointly authored a draft paper that was presented at Yale University’s Workshop on Private Authority and Public Policy in Global Context in January 2018.
Having such opportunities for exchange, discussion and learning from scholars with different theoretical backgrounds, epistemologies and empirical approaches is invaluable for an early career researcher aiming to situate her work in the broader scholarly context. Hearing Graeme Auld’s historical institutionalist perspective on early developments in the realm of certification, for instance, adds important context to my quantitative, micro-institutional findings that will deeply enrich the analysis.
Similarly, engaging with Benjamin Cashore’s long-run perception on how private governance may be able to ratchet up firm-level behavior and socio-environmental outcomes has allowed me to evaluate the current developments in the coffee sector’s sustainability governance from a new and interesting angle, which led to an additional publication currently under review.
Finally, for a late-stage PhD candidate pursuing an academic career, coming on a research visit is a great opportunity to learn more about the North American academic landscape as contrasted with the European system, and to make first connections in both worlds in the hopes of being able to continue investigating these fascinating questions for many more years to come – “Ours the Task Eternal” as Carleton’s motto aptly states. I am eternally grateful for the hospitality and generosity of my host, the department and the university and hope that other young scholars will equally benefit from similar opportunities – even if it means bracing yourself for -30 degree winters!