On Melting Summits: The Limitations of Field-Configuring Events as Catalysts of Change in Transnational Climate Policy



Although field-configuring events have been highlighted as catalysts of institutional change, we still know little about the specific conditions that allow such change to occur. Based on a longitudinal study of United Nations climate conferences in the context of the transnational climate policy field we analyze how regular and high-stakes events in an event series interacted in producing and preventing institutional change. We uncover variations in event structures, processes and outcomes that explain why climate conferences have not led to effective solutions to combat human-induced global warming. Results in particular highlight that growing field complexity and issue multiplication compromise the change potential of a field-configuring event series. We argue that events change from field-endogenous catalysts of change into sites of field maintenance when diverse actors find event participation useful for their own purposes, but their activity disconnects from the institutions at the center of an issue-based field. In discussing how field-configuring events can be purposefully staged and enacted, but also how they are influenced by developments in a field our study contributes to a more complete understanding of field-configuring events, particularly in contested transnational policy arenas.

This research seminar is organised by the Centre for Corporate Eco-Transformation at Erasmus University.