Research themes

My current research interests can be organized into four over-lapping themes: (i) institutional foundations of policy choices, (ii) regulatory harmonization, (iii) non-traditional governance, and (iv) transatlantic politics. Institutional foundations of policy choices or policy histories are important in understanding the limitations of regulatory harmonization attempts. While product standards and production processes may present formidable harmonization challenges, domestic regulatory policies pose even greater challenges because they are both the product of complex bargaining which led to their implementation, as well as reflections of deep beliefs about the proper way to address a particular issue. Understanding these foundations is crucial to identifying the policy space available for mutually agreeable harmonized policies.

Regulatory harmonization is occurring in all sectors of political activities which affect trade or cross-boarder business activities. However, the range of these endeavors is broader than the well-documented subject of product and production standards. I am interested in those issues which present obstacles to regulatory harmonization – particularly in the transatlantic context. I believe that many of the insights gained with respect to regulatory harmonization with the European Union can also be applied to the transatlantic challenge.

In the category of non-traditional governance, I am concerned with two somewhat related phenomena: regulation by non-state actors, and the performance of new environmental policy instruments. Non-state actors are increasingly assuming regulatory tasks, either in the shadow of the state or beyond the reach of states. These phenomena question core concepts of the discipline and are still under-studied and -theorized. New environmental policy instruments have recently received much attention, yet many assessments of their effectiveness and limitations have been through unsystematic case studies. Furthermore, what is still lacking is a coordinated research effort to identify factors which contribute either to the success or failure of these instruments beyond the particular circumstances of individual policy areas. With this in mind, I intend to systematize existing case studies in a meta-study in order to identify structural conditions under which certain policy instruments can provide an efficient solution to a policy problem, or under which those same instruments can be expected to perform worst. Identifying conditions for failure is particularly important for policymakers, as such conditions may suggest when certain instruments should be excluded from a policy response.

My academic socialization has taken place in a transatlantic context: I have received academic training in both Germany and the United States, and I have held positions at a number of organizations involved in transatlantic policy dialogue. These practical experiences have shaped my understanding of policy-making and have also created my affinity for transatlantic themes. Transatlantic politics are not only important for advanced industrialized countries, but also for the rest of the globe, given the preponderance of North America and Europe in world politics. I have co-authored a chapter on leadership in transatlantic environmental relations (see Ochs and Schaper 2005) that feeds into a larger project on the role of leadership in transatlantic relations organized by me an another European scholar.

Research subjects

At the moment, I am involved in research on three subjects. My dissertation explores environmental standard setting for export credit agencies in a transatlantic comparison of U.S. and German export promotion policies. It serves as a case study for my interest in regulatory harmonization. Here, I am especially interested in both the variation of national institutional constraints in the acceptance of harmonization proposals and in the design of successfully harmonized regulations. A book chapter is part of this project (see Görlach, Knigge, and Schaper 2007); another chapter summarizing the findings from my dissertation has been prepared for publication in a forthcoming volume edited by Miranda Schreurs, Henrik Selin, and Stacy VanDeveer. I am also working on revisions to an article submitted to Environmental Politics regarding this subject.

Related to the theme of my dissertation research are the environmental policies of Equator Principle banks as an example of non-state regulation. Regarding these topics two article manuscripts on these issues are presently under review – each to be part of a different special coordinated journal issue.

Risk regulation of nanotechnology products is my latest research interest. Scholarship on the regulation of biotechnology has provided much insight into risk and the regulation of new technologies. However, much of this research was conducted rather late in the policy-making process, after rules and regulations had already been established. Emerging regulation of nanotechnology thus provides a genuine opportunity to apply lessons learned from biotechnology research to the closely-related regulatory challenges of creating internationally compatible rules harnessing the risks of this new technology without hindering technological progress. I have convened a workshop on the issue (see in March 2006, and we are currently revising the workshop papers for publication.

Theoretical and Methodological Approaches

My choice of my research topics and theory is problem-driven: I research topics that I consider interesting and important, and then choose those theoretical and methodological approaches which provide the most leverage to address these problems. When dealing with current policy issues, one is inevitably confronted with the task of aiming at a moving target, but producing timely research findings on such topcis can also add valuable inputs to the policymaking process.

In my dissertation research I have applied New Institutionalist inquiry across national and supra-national levels. It proved more effective in evaluating negotiators’ limits with regard to compromise on harmonized standards than traditional IR theory. Although my loyalty is not tied to any specific theory, I feel that international and transnational politics are best explained when they are linked to domestic policy discourses.

Similar to my choice of theoretical approach, I am not convinced by the exclusive use of either qualitative or quantitative methodologies. Although my dissertation is largely an exploratory and inductive project using qualitative case studies in a grounded-theory approach, I believe that statistical analysis is also an important and effective tool, and I have used quantitative methods in previous work. Where possible, I favor mixed methods approaches; unfortunately for the case of my dissertation project, the nature and availability of data have not allowed for triangulation.