Earlier this month, Irina Papazu (University of Copenhagen), David Moats (Goldsmiths, University of London) and my-self organised the third session of the CSISP Salon. Based on a variety of works in progress, it was dedicated to “natural resources and material politics”. We discussed, for example, how the notion of “attachement” could be useful to describe localized protests against renewable energy projects and circumvent the discrediting NIMBY (not in my backyard) interpretation. Building an example of Facebook posts about nuclear power, we reflected upon the status of this empirical material that seems to display the staging of a controversy between semi-fictional figures. Finally, we talked about how tropical deforestation has become a problem related to climate change and how this can help us thinking of the process through which something, here the carbon stored in those trees, is turned into a (natural) resource.
Last month I attended the interdisciplinary Seminar entitled “Trials and Tribulations of Economics: New Directions for Economic Policy Evidence” where I presented extracts from my PhD. The objective of the event was to make philosophers, political scientists, sociologists, and economists discuss the relationships between economics and its attuning to “real-world behaviour”, to quote Will Davies’ reflections about the seminar available here.
The presentations engaged more or less critically with new experimental methods in economics, such as big data analysis and Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs), in order to address the question of the interactions between economic expertise, understood in a very broad sense, and policy-making. The event gathered a rich set of empirical problems and issues. The participants’ work dealt with the enthusiasm for nudging in US politics, evidence-based interventions in UK health sector, ethical concerns with RCTs in development economics, or international result-based regulations targeting tropical deforestation. While the variety of cases clearly showed the preeminence of economic incentives and performance-based initiatives in contemporary (mostly Anglo-Saxon) policy-making, the challenge resided in the possibility of exchanging views, analysis and ideas across methodological and theoretical differences. With the "Trials and Tribulations of Economics" seminar, the Spaces of Evidence network provided a forum for such stimulating discussion and might do it again in future events, which can be followed here.
A week ago, I defended my PhD at the Ecole des Mines de Paris, France. The committee was composed of Pascale Trompette, Giorgio Blundo, Andrew Barry, Christophe Bonneuil, and Fabian Muniesa who had been my supervisor at the Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation (cf. picture).
Below is a brief description of the PhD entitled "Carbon Geopolitics. International Climate Action and the Problem of Tropical Deforestation".
The thesis explores the components of concerted action at an international scale by focusing on how the problem of CO2 emissions attributed to tropical deforestation is handled in climate change negotiations. The constraint faced by actors is as follows: interventions led by a diversity of actors across the world need to be coordinated, in the pursuit of an objective agreed by all states represented at the United Nations whose sovereignty must be respected. Such process builds on operations that can be analyzed from the viewpoint of carbon geopolitics. Some of these operations are related to the spatial extension and the liberal and quantified dimensions of the enterprise. Decision-making at an international level must be organized, comparable carbon measurement methods must be created and incentive-based redistribution systems must be designed. Other operations are specific to the entities concerned by the treated phenomenon, so-called developing countries. The weakness of their technical equipment must be acknowledged, so-called bad governance in their administrations must be dealt with and their civil society must be listened to. The approach developed here is grounded in science and technology studies, a domain that has recently focused on the construction of markets and decision-making. Based on a multisite investigation, the thesis examines a set of problems characteristic of concerted action at an international scale: international decision-making, project-based action, countries' preparation, the valuation of correct measures, trust-making in economic relationships and the production of consensus. It proposes to call international adjustment the tentative and fragile process through which the interest for climate protection of an international collective is maintained.
Earlier this month, I participated in the panel organised by Sveta Milyaeva and Daniel Neyland at the EASST conference in Torun, Poland. You can read more about the event here.
So far, I’ve conducted a series of interviews with actual or former members of the British Department for International Development (DFID). The discussions turned around DFID’s implication in the Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for pneumococcal vaccine and the agency's enthusiasm for “market shaping”.
The interviewees highlighted, for example, the importance of being accountable to “the British tax-payer” for a state agency such as DFID, especially given that, while most of the budgets in UK public sector tend to diminish, aid expenditures still match the objective of 0.7 GDP (equivalent of more than 10 billions £). Consequently, “aid effectiveness”, which emerged as a concern among donor countries in the mid 2000s, is a goal explicitly pursued by DFID. The agency deploys a variety of tools, from the “business cases” justifying every future financial contributions to the Multilateral Aid Review conducted in 2011 (and updated in 2013) that assessed the “value-for-money” of multilateral organisations that the UK finances. The GAVI Alliance, which hosts the AMC (see below), is one of the organisations that performed well according to DFID’s criteria because of its focus on poor countries, its “cost and value consciousness”, and its “transparency and accountability”.
Another subject that emerged from the conservations was the problem of making political announcements credible, especially when donors have to interact with the private sector and engage in market relationships. For example, at the core of the AMC lies a very complex legal arrangement through which the promise made by donors, according to which, if a suitable pneumococcal vaccine is produced and if there is a demand for this vaccine, they will buy the product, is backed by legally binding documents. Incentivizing the pharmaceutical industry is not just a matter of having enough money and finding the right level of incentives (such as a subsidy), it’s also about designing contracts and legal agreements.
The last main theme evoked during the interviews was “market-shaping” as a way for DFID to act upon the vaccine markets. The expression covers a set of initiatives and devices recently developed by donors (governmental as well as philanthropical) and multilateral partnerships like the GAVI Alliance in order to negotiate better contracts and prices with pharmaceutical companies, and stimulate new entrants and therefore competition in health commodities markets. The AMC and its legal arrangements is actually an early example of market shaping, but a relatively encompassing one compared to the more punctual and ad hoc initiatives, such as providing demand forecasts or helping applications for licensure, that are favoured today.
Visit of the WHO Reference Laboratory for Pneumococcal Serology, UCL Institute of Child Health, London
I had the opportunity to visit the WHO Reference Laboratory for Pneumococcal Serology hosted by UCL. As indicated by its name, the laboratory is specialised in the measure of antibodies directed against pneumococcus (or streptococcus pneumonia), a bacteria causing pneumonia and meningitis in children. It provides a set of services to research centres and pharmaceutical firms working on/with the bacteria. For manufacturers developing a pneumococcal vaccine, the one bought through the Advance Market commitment (AMC), the laboratory can conduct standardised assays to assess the immune response - the level of antibodies quantified by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and their ability to kill the bacteria measured by opsonophagocytosis assay (OPA) - generated by immunisation in a randomised controlled trial for example. The standardisation of the measure is crucial because the results are presented in licensing applications where they are evaluated by regulators when they authorise the vaccine, making it a commercial product.
Below are pictures taken during the visit.
This sub-project deals with public aid and vaccine markets for developing countries. I started to approach this subject/object by focusing on the Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for pneumococcal vaccine. This market-based initiative, which emerged in the mid 2000s and became operational five years later, uses aid commitments to incentivize pharmaceutical companies to develop products suitable for the developing world (e.g. specific epidemiological conditions). Known as a “pull mechanism” by economists, the AMC is a legal and economic arrangement ensuring that if manufacturers produce the desired vaccine and if low-income countries’ health administrations are requesting the product, it will be bought tanks to the committed fund. The AMC is financed by a set of governments, among which the UK, and its implementation is conducted by the GAVI Alliance. This private-public partnership was created in 2000 with an initial grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Nowadays it involves international and UN organisations, such as the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) supply division for its expertise in vaccine purchase, the World Health Organization (WHO) for its expertise in public health, and the World Bank for its expertise in fund management, but also governments, from both the donor (European and North American countries) and the beneficiary (mostly African and Asian countries) sides, research and non governmental organisations as well as pharmaceutical companies.