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This forum piece discusses why multilateral spaces are key ‘sites’ for studying struggles over environmental knowledge and how Collaborative Event Ethnography (CEE) can open up new avenues for Critical Policy Studies. Frank Fischer has argued that contestation over environmental knowledge is a discursive struggle over whose reality counts. Yet, the analysis of the structuring and ordering effects of ‘text’ also benefits from CEE during multilateral environmental agreement making, where participants dispute the meaning and place of words in the written document being negotiated. I will use the example of marine biodiversity negotiations to illustrate that the debate over environmental knowledge bears the deep mark of long-standing global imbalances between the Global North and the Global South. In order to understand these global imbalances and how they shape the ability of actors to determine the outcome of text-based negotiations I propose to link CEE to empirical studies of scientific fields. I will conclude by arguing that the potential of multilateral spaces to shift the epistemic order and change the world order for the better is the main reason why we should care about their future after the COVID-19 crisis has passed and find ways to strengthen their legitimacy.


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