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Jeff Broadbent Interview    Jeff Broadbent's university website

Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks by Jeffrey Broadbent, University of Minnesota [see his longer piece on Climate Change]

November, 2007

Public Sociology

Sociology translates to public action . . .

This occasional column highlights sociologists who successfully engage sociology in the civic arena in service to organizations and communities. Over the years, members of ASA and sociologists as individual professionals and citizens have sought to make the knowledge we generate directly relevant to our communities, countries, and the world community. Many sociologists within the academy and in other sectors practice the translation of expert knowledge to numerous critical issues through consultation, advisement, testimony, commentary, writing, and participation in a variety of activities and venues. Readers are invited to submit contributions, but consult with Managing Editor Johanna Olexy (, 202-383-9005 x312) prior to submitting your draft (1,000 to 1,200 words maximum).

Editor’s Note: The following Public Sociology piece by Jeffrey Broadbent describes his "mini-odyssey" across several countries, as he organizes a global public sociology endeavor. His effort is not unique in that sociologists throughout the world are answering the call to make their studies relevant to global and local problems while maintaining rigorous scientific standards. These standards remain at the core of their methods, but engagement in Public Sociology undertakings often requires a bold leap into the unknown, challenging our capacities, and placing us outside our comfort zones, says Broadbent. * * *

Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks by Jeffrey Broadbent, University of Minnesota

The causes of and risks posed by global climate change are by now well-known to science and, increasingly, to the public. However, the (human) world has done little to fend off this looming threat. As the metaphor has it, we sit like frogs in a pot waiting to be boiled. Public sociology urges us to tackle current social issues and illuminate them with sociological insight to help in their resolution. The National Research Council just identified an urgent need for more social scientific research on climate change in its recently released report Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results.

Before graduate school, I had participated in social justice movements and spent a year in a Buddhist monastery. I began to wonder whether religious culture affected how societies treated their environment. My doctoral dissertation concerned the effects of culture and social structure on struggles over industrial growth and environmental protection in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Based on my field work in Japan, I found radical differences in both culture and social structure, compared to the United States. Yet despite both countries having intense pollution, Japan reduced its air pollution more rapidly and thoroughly than Western countries. This success depended upon Japan’s combination of demography, protests, elites, networks, culture, and governing institutions. These findings drove me to ponder the complex interactions of these characteristics, and to analyze them through (originally qualitative) network methods.

When ASA Past-President Michael Burawoy promulgated public sociology in 2004, I thought: What can sociology contribute to our understanding about climate change, and how can it help us to change course? Following my doctoral research, in the late 1980s and ‘90s, I participated in a cross-national comparison of labor politics in the United States, Germany, and under my responsibility, Japan. Through this, I was able to learn the quantitative "policy network" method from collaborators David Knoke and Franz Pappi. Subsequently, I worked with a Japanese colleague to implement a policy network study of the Japanese climate change domain. I thought why not do a comparative climate change policy network study to determine the barriers to inaction, and how they differ around the world? Great! But, if that is the method, what is the question? What do we think really causes our inaction, so that we can test these ideas in our project? Then, sociologist Penelope Canan, Director of the Global Carbon Project at the National Institute of Environmental Studies in Japan (Footnotes, January 2005), invited me to give a lecture at a conference on networks and global environmental change in Japan. Comparative Climate Change Project

Thus inspired, I began to organize the comparative climate change project. I applied for the Abe Fellowship from the Japan Foundation and Social Science Research Council to conduct a year’s preparatory research on climate change politics in the United States, Japan, Germany, and Austria, examining the interaction of corporatist institutions and reciprocity networks. To increase funding likelihood, I included China, India, and Brazil. At an INSNA (International Network for Social Network Analysis) conference, I found collaboratorsnetworkers from Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, and Greece. With the Abe Fellowship and a year’s sabbatical support from my university, I had two years to work on this project.

What do sociologists of science have to say about climate change internationally? Plenty. To begin the project, I organized a conference featuring social scientists working on the science/policy interface, as well as comparative and international environmental politics and culture. The conference, "Risk and Response to Global Warming and Environmental Change," took place January 25-28, 2007. In addition to public meetings, which drew statelevel political, media, and public participation, we hosted a workshop for the growing country team participants and network experts in the project. Scholars from European, Asian, and South American countries agreed to lead teams for the project. Social and natural scientists from the University of Minnesota also joined us (papers are available at conferences.html).

Conference attendees realized that networks conveying scientific claims also convey a particular kind of cultural "frame." We realized, too, that the international level had to be treated as its own distinct case, with networks among international organizations around climate change acting as important conveyors of knowledge.

Understanding the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) as the global source of climate change gave us a common standard to assess in each country case. Among the social conditions affecting the influence of IPCC science in national policy, we believe the existence of powerful advocacy coalitions play a crucial role. In generating such coalitions, networks of reciprocity and negotiation across interestsector divides may be the crucial social infrastructural factor. Designing and implementing a common data collection format (survey and interviews) presents many obstacles including financial ones. By this time, the project had acquired the acronym COMPON, standing for COMparing climate change POlicy Networks (the acronym means "basis" in Japanese).

That spring, with Abe funding, I spent two months organizing the Japan case. After speaking at a conference on economic progress in Moscow, I visited a scholar in Saint Petersburg recommended as a potential COMPON collaborator, Irina Shmeleva, a professor at Saint Petersburg State University, and she is now leading our Russia team. The Abe Fellowship allowed me to travel across Europe to conduct interviews and give lectures at environmental institutes. Survey Design and Invitation

Returning to Minneapolis, I had funds from the Abe Fellowship to conduct the survey for the Japan case the following year, but no other team had any money. The Europeans promised to work together to find funding for their seven or eight cases from European Union sources. I spent the summer working on a proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Science and Society program. The German and Austrian cases were confident of their funding. So, I sought funding for the remaining cases crucial to a core comparisonthe United States, Russia, India, and the international case. These diverse cases would allow us to test our hypotheses about factors affecting the flow of IPCC climate change science into policy and practice. Currently, scholars at McGill University, Columbia University, Saint Petersburg State University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai), and Minnesota, as well as the larger COMPON circle, await the funding news.

I and other COMPON members and graduate students are now working to design the network survey instrument that will be used by all cases. We extend the invitation to bring in your own case. More information about the COMPON project can be obtained from the author at


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