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Reflections from POLLEN2024 - What makes 29 researchers from three continents join forces to create a conference?

Logotype and pictures of people standing in a room and outside. Photo and text.
Participants at the POLLEN2024 conference.

The POLLEN2024 conference in June gathered hundreds of researchers across three sites Dodoma (Tanzania), Lima (Peru) and Lund (Sweden) in 200 special panels to discuss political ecology for just and plural futures.

Some of the organisers at Lund University and University of Copenhagen: Jens Friis Lund, Wim Carton, Mine Islar, Lina Lefstad and Torsten Krause, reflect on the outcomes of the conference.

What makes 29 researchers from three continents join forces to create a conference?

A message ticks in on the phone: "One of the sites has fallen out again. We're going offline!" 

We are in the middle of the third and final plenary session of the Fifth International Conference on Political Ecology, where we are trying to connect three conference locations via the Internet. There is hectic activity behind the scenes, while the 700 conference participants spread across Dodoma in Tanzania, Lima in Peru and Lund in Sweden listen to the dialogue. The topic is how we can contribute better with our knowledge to create a more sustainable and just future.

It is a complex topic, and the complexity is reflected in our attempts to discuss it jointly across the conference's three locations. The internet is teasing, the picture is falling out, and the translation from Spanish to English requires extra attention in listening.

So why on earth have we chosen this format? Or in other words: what makes 29 researchers from three continents join forces to create a conference with hybrid plenary sessions and simultaneous translation?

The short answer is fairness.

First, an attempt to create a more accessible conference. Researchers from countries outside Europe and North America are often unable to get funding for travel expenses. And even if they can, they often can't get a visa. So the hope was to give more people the opportunity to participate. To further support this, we applied for funding for travel grants for researchers without institutional support – and were lucky to get support from the Danida Fellowship Centre, the Independent Research Fund Denmark and the Global Development Network – University of Copenhagen.

Second, an attempt to minimize the climate footprint of conferences. By having conference locations on three continents, we hoped to limit the number of cross-continental flights.

Thirdly, an attempt to give more institutions the opportunity to make a professional and organisational imprint at international conferences. Through the collaboration across Peru, Tanzania, Sweden and Denmark, we created a conference where the academic content and format were an expression of a more international outlook.

A woman speaking in an aula. Photo.
Mine Islar, docent and senior lecturer at LUCSUS, moderating the first hybrid session at the conference in Lund.

Did we succeed?

Partly maybe. The conference ultimately reflected the unequal world we find ourselves in. For example, the number of participants was much larger in Lund than in Lima and Dodoma. And unfortunately, we experienced that several who wanted to participate in Lund had to cancel because their visa application did not go through. And it was in Dodoma – and not Lund – that the internet connection went down in the middle of the third and final plenary session.

Nevertheless, after the conference, there were big smiles all around in all three conference locations. It was far from a perfect conference, but it was an attempt to create a slightly fairer conference in an unfair world.

/Jens Friis Lund, Wim Carton, Mine Islar, Lina Lefstad and Torsten Krause - from Lund University and University of Copenhagen.

Read more about POLLEN2024 on the conference website