Thinking About Trade

Workshop at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, 28 to 29 May 2015

World trade politics is conventionally explained based on interests weighed by power. Yet, like any area of political activity, it also includes a strong cognitive dimension. This dimension becomes evident in claims that the WTO is facing a ‘legitimacy crisis’ as well as in the emphasis placed on norms and values like ‘liberalization’, the ‘rule of law’ or ‘coherence’. It also becomes visible in struggles to include labor rights and sustainability into the preambles of bilateral or multilateral trade agreements and in the oftentimes fierce contestation over the meaning of concepts like ‘development’, ‘democracy’ or ‘differentiated treatment’ in the context of world trade politics.

The workshop puts the cognitive dimension center stage. It asks how cognitive approaches help us to make sense of politics in an issue area that is frequently regarded as a hard case for constructivists: How do norms, ideas and heuristics shape the power relations and the interests that actors pursue in the current trade regime? How and why do certain norms, ideas and heuristics norms become powerful? And how and why do the ways in which we see world trade politics – as well as the meanings and power attached to certain norms, ideas and heuristics – change over time?

In an attempt to integrate insights from different scholarly discourses and disciplines, the workshop seeks to take stock of the various roles that cognitions play in the conduct of world trade politics, either as the ‘deep structures’ that constitute or inform the agents and their interests as well as the positions they hold, or as the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and legitimate policy that actors regularly contest and (re)define in the pursuit of their assumed interests. Furthermore, the workshop seeks to explore how cognitive approaches question traditional assumptions over precisely what is an ‘actor’ and what is the relevant sphere of social relations that constitute the current world trade regime.

The workshop is organized by Klaus Dingwerth ( and Clara Weinhardt (, Global Public Policy Institute) as a part of the Global Democratic Governance Profile Area (GDG) of the University of St. Gallen. A limited number of travel grants will be available to reimburse travel and accommodation costs of workshop participants.

Key Dates:

  • Abstracts of up to 250 words can be submitted until Thursday, 5 February 2015. Please e-mail your abstracts to and
  • Decisions about the selection of papers will be communicated by Tuesday, 17 February 2015.
  • Full workshop papers will need to be submitted by Thursday, 21 May 2015.

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