Scientific Research Project Title

Universal Aspirations vs. Geopolitical Divides: Imagining the World as a “Post-Millennial” in the SDG Era

Research Institution

Roskilde University

Roskilde University

Research field

International Development Studies

Research leader

Mette Fog Olwig

Associate Professor

Project title

Universal Aspirations vs. Geopolitical Divides: Imagining the World as a “Post-Millennial” in the SDG Era

What is your project about?

Young people from all over the world are today confronted with challenges such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic that cut across state boundaries. These challenges are often referred to as global and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) suggest that they must be solved through global partnerships. In line with this global imaginary, youth across the world have already jointly mobilized to combat climate change and participated in coordinated collective actions, such as school strikes. Yet, contrary to imaginaries of equal global partnerships, these young people face very diverse local life circumstances shaped by social and economic inequalities. This project focuses on young people who are concerned with finding solutions to global challenges but live in disparate parts of the world under very different conditions, specifically in Tanzania and Denmark – two countries that have been in an unequal donor-recipient partnership for almost 60 years. The project will investigate how these young people reconcile the tension between universal aspirations, characterized by global solutions and equal partnerships, and geopolitical divides, comprising hierarchies and unequal power relations.

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

I teach young university students from all over the world who are interested in worldwide challenges and therefore have chosen to study International Development Studies at Roskilde University. The SDGs have been lauded for redefining development as a question of sustainability which is relevant for all countries in the world. This has led to a global imaginary of global interconnectedness, global partnerships and global generations. But my students come from many different places and have different socio-economic backgrounds. This diversity has generated my interest in investigating to what extent young people today feel they are part of a global generation, and what this means for their perception of their responsibility, power or powerlessness in relation to engaging with the world politically, economically and socially.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

Global imaginaries are global in two ways. They circulate between countries and can therefore become dominant all over the world. But they also invoke the idea that the global is an actual platform where we can act, even though we can only really do so in particular places. While scholars have focused on the repercussions of global interconnectedness, and of specific imaginaries becoming globally dominant, little attention has been paid to the role of the perception that it is somehow possible to act globally, and how this imaginary affects our contemporary youth. My project takes up this scientific challenge. Specifically, it investigates the idea of a global generational consciousness that connects youth across geopolitical divides, defined not least through their access to technology and social media, and treated as such by major global agencies, such as the UN. By building a theoretical foundation for engaging critically with globalized discourses, my project will contribute to the state of the art on the idea of global generations, global partnerships, and global frameworks such as the SDGs. The project is pioneering because it will develop a new theoretical understanding of the relational geopolitical impact of global imaginaries. It is innovative in this context because of its multi-sited method, which makes it possible to study how young people are affected both by globally circulating imaginaries and by their experiences in the particular places where they live.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

My project seeks to explicate the role of global imaginaries in how youth in the Global South and the Global North foresee their future responsibilities, possibilities, and challenges. The project questions are important in order to understand how and why young people in different parts of the world become engaged or disengaged in worldwide challenges. In addition, this project’s findings will qualify the public debate on sustainable development and the idea of the global, as well as feed into for-profit, non-profit, and public engagement with the SDGs.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

Becoming part of the Sapere Aude programme is a great honor. The grant comes at a time in my career where I have been working for more than ten years on the interplay between discourse and practice in sustainable development. Therefore, this research grant puts me in a position to rethink this field in an innovative and novel way with a strong research team while also strengthening my international network and collaboration.

Background and personal life

I grew up in the inner city of Copenhagen but have spent a significant part of my childhood and youth abroad many different places in the world – primarily in the Caribbean, the US, the UK, Sweden, Norway and India. In connection with my research, I have also spent longer periods of time in Vietnam, Ghana, and Tanzania. This has shaped me as a researcher and as a person. In my free time I enjoy my husband’s experiments with fusion cuisine, playing with our two small children and walking our dog on Amager Fælled.

City of your current residence

Copenhagen

High school

Trondheim Cathedral School (International Baccalaureate)