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The politics of knowledge: a summary of the second ERA CRN Cambridge workshop

Meng-Hsuan Chou

In July 2015, UACES’s European Research Area CRN held its second workshop at the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) in Cambridge. Knowledge policies continue to be at the forefront of contemporary global politics. There is an accepted belief among policymakers that knowledge is the foundation on which societies coalesce and economies thrive. Indeed, the competition for knowledge can be said to be driving the global race for talent. Building on the theme of the CRN’s first workshop, which explored the diverse roles of the ‘four I’s’ – ideas, interests, instruments and institutions in the ‘knowledge area building exercise’, this workshop invited contributions to examine the politics of knowledge policies in Europe and beyond.

Participants of ERA CRN workshop July 2015 (from left to right: Hannes Hansen-Magnusson, Julie Smith, Inga Ulnicane, Mari Elken, Luis Sanz-Menendez, Laura Cruz-Castro, Pauline Ravinet, Peter Erdelyi, Hannah Moscovitz; seated: Meng-Hsuan Chou and Mitchell Young) (Photo credit: Mari Elken)

Opening the session on ‘International policies, norms and knowledge policies’, Hannes Hansen-Magnusson (University of Hamburg) proposed a way to account for knowledge in practices of responsibility. In this co-authored paper (with Antje Wiener and Antje Vetterlein), he argued that researchers should uncover meso-level norms in order to ‘increase long-term sustainable normativity under conditions of globalisation’.

Is education policy an ‘internal consolidator or foreign policy vehicle? Amelia Hadfield (Canterbury Christ Church University) and Robert Summerby-Murray (Saint Mary’s University) asked. Using the EU and Canada as their examples, they highlighted how education policy has been co-opted to serve multiple purposes—as the modus operandi for cultivating notions of statehood and belonging, and as an extension to others of prevailing national cultural norms and understanding.

Turning to the session on ‘Regions and the re-configuration of knowledge policy areas: Examples from Canada, Europe and South East Asia’, Hannah Moscovitz (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) compared how Quebec and Wallonia used higher education as a tool for identity promotion. She found that their approaches were distinct: whereas Quebec used knowledge policies to consolidate and foster its distinct identity, Wallonia used higher education policies as a promotional tool (the image of ‘Wallonia-Brussels’) to place itself on the global higher education map.

Pauline Ravinet (Photo credit: Mari Elken)

Pauline Ravinet (Photo credit: Mari Elken)

Offering another comparative perspective, Meng-Hsuan Chou (NTU Singapore) and Pauline Ravinet (Université Lille 2) discussed the rise of what they called ‘higher education regionalisms’ around the world. They showed how the supranational and national policy actors in Europe and South East Asia articulated their ambitions to establish common higher education areas in similar ways, but ultimately they adopt very different institutional arrangements for achieving their goals. Chou and Ravinet argued that there are varieties of ‘higher education regionalisms’ around the world and encouraged researchers to examine them empirically.

In the session ‘Studying Europe’s open labour market for researchers’, Inga Ulnicane (University of Vienna) presented the research design for a study for on the European Research Area. Her study will combine academic research and published studies to identify the shortcomings and gaps in priority areas of the ERA such as effective national research systems and transnational cooperation and competition.

Peter Erdelyi (Photo credit: Mari Elken)

Peter Erdelyi (Photo credit: Mari Elken)

In the penultimate session—‘Knowledge policy instrumentation: from failure to reform?’—Péter Erdélyi (Bournemouth University) discussed the rise and fall of UK’s Business Link, a policy instrument the government adopted for furthering its knowledge economy. In this co-authored paper (with Edgar Whitley), he showed the implementation challenges associated with Business Link the UK government faced in its attempts to address market failures impeding the growth of SMEs.

Examining the relationship between ideas and instruments, Mitchell Young (Charles University in Prague) argued that policy instruments embed politics. Using the cases of the new Swedish and Czech performance-based funding tools, along with EU’s framework programmes, he showed how studying policy instruments reveal the ideas and narratives steering politics.

Is there standardisation in higher education? Mari Elken (NIFU and University of Oslo) asked. Taking the case of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and its subsequent translation through National Qualifications Framework (NQF), she showed how the EQF has generated standardisation pressures across Europe. The most surprising element, Elken revealed, has been the voluntary nature of the instrument.

Closing the workshop with the session ‘The institutional design and implementation for excellence’, Thomas König (Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna) presented three aspects concerning peer reviewing: (1) how it is defined; (2) when it entered the world of research funding; and (3) how the notion is applied in academia and research funding. He showed that peer review plays a very different role in research funding than in academia. In research funding, peer review is used to legitimise funding decisions and is greatly valued for its procedural flexibility.

Finally, in a co-authored paper (with Alberto Benitez-Amado), Luis Sanz-Menendez and Laura Cruz-Castro (both CSIC Institute of Public Goods and Policies) analysed the participation of Spanish universities in the European Research Council (ERC) funding calls. Studying a representative sample of eighteen universities across Spain, they found that Spanish higher education institutions did not respond to the calls in the same way. Put simply, there is no homogeneity in how Spanish universities approach ERC funding calls.

The European Research Area CRN would like to thank UACES and POLIS (University of Cambridge) for their generous support in the hosting of this workshop.

Governance of knowledge policies (ICPP, Milan, Italy)

Martina Vukasovic

The 2nd International Conference on Public Policy was held in Milan, 1-4 July 2015, on the premises Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. What was initially envisaged to be a three day conference, prolonged due to significant interest, gathered around 1300 participants from 63 countries, who presented and discussed approx. 1200 papers in 260 parallel sessions. In addition, 6 plenary sessions, including one focusing on the relationship between public policy and various disciplines (anthropology, economics, planning, political science, sociology, international relations, and philosophy). The conference was structured around 18 different topics, within which panels on particular issues were organized, sometimes including more than one paper session.

Jens Jungblut (photo credit: Mari Elken)

Jens Jungblut (photo credit: Mari Elken)

Concerning knowledge policies, they were the focus of four panels. ERA CRN network organized a panel on Governance of knowledge policies, structured around three elements and comprising nine papers: (1) discourse and ideas, (2) central organizations (i.e. universities or research institutes) and (3) groups and individuals within these central organizations (academic and research staff and students). In addition, panels focused on patterns and pathways of convergence and divergence in higher education, higher education policy in Asia and governance of higher education between historical roots and transnational convergence pressures.

Walter Ysebaert and Tatiana Fumasoli (photo credit: Mari Elken)

Walter Ysebaert and Tatiana Fumasoli (photo credit: Mari Elken)

Other panels of potential interest for those studying knowledge policies in multi-level multi-actor contexts included those focusing on defining policy problems, the work of policy analysts, horizontal policy coordination between different public policy sectors, global-local dynamic in public policy, global policy convergence, and multilevel implementation. Also, panels focused on advancing theoretical tools for analysing policy (e.g. Advocacy Coalition Framework or the Multiple Streams Framework, or discussing methods for policy analysis.

During the conference, the general assembly of the recently established International Public Policy Association was organized, focusing on strategic issues, relationships with existing networks and future events. The 3rd ICPP conference will take place in 2017, most likely in Singapore. In the meantime, those interested in public policy can consider participating in the 1st Regional Conference on Public Policy, 10-11 June 2016, in Hong Kong.

Resistance to Implementing Gender Mainstreaming in EU Research Policy

Lut Mergaert and Emanuela Lombardo[i]

The European Union (EU) officially committed to gender mainstreaming in the 1990s, fixing the principle in treaty articles, action programmes, and communications, and setting up institutional bodies and mechanisms to promote the incorporation of a gender perspective into policymaking. However, the implementation has not reflected these official commitments. This is, in part, because individual and institutional resistances prevent an effective implementation of the strategy. This flags the need to analyse manifestations of resistance to gender initiatives within institutions, as resistances are factors that help to understand the failure of gender policies.

In our article, we analyse the implementation of gender mainstreaming in the European Union through the study of ‘resistance’ to gender equality initiatives in the EU research policy. Contributing to feminist institutionalist theories, we identify resistance to gender initiatives within the Directorate General Research and Innovation, showing that there has been obstacles to an effective implementation of gender mainstreaming in the European Commission’s 6th Framework Programme (FP6). We argue that the encountered resistances reveal tensions between the European Commission’s official mandate of mainstreaming gender equality into all policies and its actual implementation, which results in the evaporation of transformative gender equality goals. To operationalise our analysis, we developed a typology of ‘resistances’ that we briefly present here.

What is meant with ‘resistance’?

Resistance generally means the refusal to accept or comply with something. In our analysis, it specifically means opposition to the change that gender mainstreaming promotes (Benschop and Verloo 2011; Lombardo and Mergaert 2013). Resistance is thus meant as a phenomenon aiming to preserve the status quo rather than to question a particular dominant social order.

Scholars have raised awareness on the genderedness of institutions and suggested that ‘[d]ynamics of institutional power relations, resistance, reproduction, continuity and change, need to be filtered through a gendered lens’ (Kenny 2011; Mackay 2011: 188). Benschop and Verloo (2011: 286) write: ‘(r)esistance to change is typically strong when an organization’s cultural norms, beliefs, attitudes, and values are the target of change efforts. This is certainly the case with projects that target the gender bias in organizational routines.’ Thus, resistance is likely to occur among the main actors involved in the implementation of mainstreaming.


Types of resistance

The concept of resistance we employ includes two main types: the individual and the institutional resistance. This distinction helps to differentiate, for analytic purposes, the resistance exercised by an individual through his or her action (or inaction) from the resistance that is revealed by a pattern of aggregated action (or inaction) that is systematically repeated and that suggests a collective orchestration against gender change.

‘Resistance to feminism’, write Bergqvist, Bjarnega, and Zetterberg (2013: 281) ‘is often seemingly invisible and implicit, and it seldom manifests itself explicitly as such’. This suggests that resistance is not necessarily a conscious, deliberate action, but rather an expression of the unequal gender norms that individuals have learnt and therefore tend to preserve. We agree with Bergqvist, Bjarnega, and Zetterberg (2013: 286) that precisely because ‘[t]he resistance is not always made explicit (…) it is important to study it empirically’. To do this, we further need to distinguish between explicit and implicit resistance (Mergaert 2012). Explicit resistance to gender change occurs when actors overtly oppose gender equality initiatives through their actions or discourses, or do not do what they ought to do in order to advance gender equality even when they are made aware of their institution’s gender equality commitments. Implicit resistance does not manifest overtly but it can be verified by observing the extent to which actors, in their discourses and (in)actions, distance themselves from the goal of gender equality itself. In reality, however, this distinction is not always clear-cut, as our observations show.

Reasons for resistance

The reasons for resistance to gender change vary and are often combined (Lombardo and Mergaert 2013). Individual resistance can originate from a feeling of ‘incapacity’ that is caused by a lack of resources such as gender knowledge and skills, time, financial resources, and power (Mergaert 2012: 63-64). This individual resistance is however connected to institutional resistance, if the institution does not provide actors with knowledge and capacity for performing the gender mainstreaming task. Resistance can also be rooted in opposition to the goal of gender equality, itself motivated by the aim of retaining particular privileges. Another reason for resistance comes from the fact that gender mainstreaming challenges people’s personal identity and beliefs, as gender mainstreaming provokes reflections about people’s own gender role and stereotypes. Additional reason for resisting can be that the goal of transforming gender relations is considered to be ‘feminist’ and thus excessively based on ideological and emotional rather than rational, scientific, or legal arguments.


The typology of individual and institutional resistance to gender equality, both implicit and explicit, devised for analytic purposes, helps to scrutinise resistances within the European Commission DG Research. The study of resistances to gender initiatives in the EU research policy confirms that individual and institutional resistances have hindered the implementation of gender mainstreaming as endorsed in EU official policy documents. The analysis of resistances – understudied in the literature – is therefore relevant to shed light on the invisibility of gender in the EU and to understand why the implementation of gender mainstreaming has been problematic and ineffective.

Dr. Lut Mergaert holds a PhD in Management Sciences from the Radboud University Nijmegen (NL). For her dissertation, she studied gender mainstreaming implementation by the European Commission in the research policy area. She works as research director at Yellow Window, where she is partner and member of the management team. Her main focus is on decision-support studies for the public sector, with a specialization in gender-related subjects. She has most recently been principal investigator and coordinator of three pan-European research projects on gender issues for the European Institute for Gender Equality: a study of collected narratives on gender perceptions in 27 EU Member States (2011); a study into the current situation and trends regarding female genital mutilation in the 27 EU Member States and Croatia (2012); and a study on institutional capacity for gender mainstreaming in the European Commission and the 28 EU Member States (2013).


Dr. Emanuela Lombardo, PhD in Politics at the University of Reading (UK), is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and Administration II of Madrid Complutense University (Spain). She has worked as researcher in different European projects (European Commission FP4, FP5, and FP6, and POM Programs). Her research concerns gender equality policies, particularly in the European Union and Spain. On these issues she has published articles in journals such as Comparative European Politics, Political Science, Social Politics, European Journal of Women’s Studies, Feminist Review, Journal of Women Politics and Policy, Women’s Studies International Forum, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Citizenship Studies, as well as chapters in edited volumes. Her last book, edited with Maxime Forest, is The Europeanization of Gender Equality Policies (Palgrave 2012). Her forthcoming monograph, authored with Petra Meier, is titled The Symbolic Representation of Gender (Ashgate).


This entry was initially published on Europe of Knowledge blog.


Benschop, Yvonne and Verloo, Mieke (2011), ‘Gender Change, Organizational Change, and Gender Equality Strategies’, in Emma L Jeanes, David Knights, and Patricia Yancey Martin (eds.), Handbook of Gender, Work and Organization (Wiley-Blackwell), 277-90.

Bergqvist, Christina, Bjarnegård, Elin, and Zetterberg, Pär (2013), ‘Analysing Failure, Understanding Success: A Research Strategy for Explaining Gender Equality Policy Adoption’, NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 21 (4), 280-95.

Kenny, Meryl (2011), ‘Gender and Institutions of Political Recruitment: Candidate Selection in Post-Devolution Scotland’, in Mona Lena Krook and Fiona Mackay (eds.), Gender, Politics and Institutions: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), 21-41.

Lombardo, Emanuela and Mergaert, Lut (2013), ‘Gender Mainstreaming and Resistance to Gender Training: A Framework for Studying Implementation’, NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 21 (4), 296-311.

Mackay, Fiona (2011), ‘Conclusion: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism?’, in Mona Lena Krook and Fiona Mackay (eds.), Gender, Politcs and Institutions: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism (Gender and Politics; Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), 181-96.

Mergaert, Lut (2012), ‘The Reality of Gender Mainstreaming Implementation. The Case of the EU Research Policy’, (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen).

[i] This contribution is based on an article published in European Integration Online Papers: Mergaert, Lut and Emanuela Lombardo (2014): ‘Resistance to implementing gender mainstreaming in EU research policy’, in: Weiner, Elaine and Heather MacRae (eds): ‘The persistent invisibility of gender in EU policy’ European Integration online Papers (EIoP), Special issue 1, Vol. 18, Article 5.