Introducing Jean-Frédéric Morin
“Diversity is a strength”. This is more than a political slogan: it is empirical fact. Heterogeneity favors innovation, which is crucial for adaptability. This is obvious to ecologists but it is also true in the social sciences. People with diverse social connections are more likely to file a patent, employees bridging social gaps within their company are assessed as more innovative by their managers, and artists connecting different cultural references are associated with higher ratings.
I try to make diversity an organizing principle for my research on international institutions. I work on various types of institutions (trade agreements, environmental organizations, space arrangements, intellectual property agreements, investment treaties, etc.), and I use a wide range of research methods (from discourse analysis to regression analysis). I have also collaborated with more than 60 coauthors, established in various countries and from different disciplines. Cultivating diversity has not always been easy, but I find it stimulating and rewarding. This predilection for diversity made me hesitant when Université Laval offered me a Canada Research Chair in 2014. Quebec City is not known for his cultural and socio-economic heterogeneity. I grew up there and I wanted to raise my daughters in a more cosmopolitan city. However, I quickly realized that the city had changed since I left two decades ago. At parent-teacher conferences, I can hear accents from all over the world. Also, Université Laval gave me the opportunity to be part of two interdisciplinary institutes ─ one on international studies and the other on sustainable development ─ where I have found amazing collaborators from various disciplines.
It is also at Université Laval that I started studying diversity as variable for my research. In my first research project conducted at Laval, I argued that trade agreements connecting very different countries are more likely to find innovative solutions to address environmental degradation than trade agreements concluded among similar countries. My current project hypothesizes that space actors are more likely to conclude ambitious agreements to manage space debris if they come from diverse backgrounds.
This diversity hypothesis raises important implications for the Canadian foreign policy. It suggests that negotiating new institutions with our natural allies is not always the most productive strategy. It also implies that multilateralism is not necessarily the optimal course of action. Sometimes, a fragmented structure made of multiple bilateral institutions can be more effective for connecting different viewpoints, experimenting new solutions, learning from them, and ultimately providing an adaptative governance system. Canada is well positioned to play a bridging role in such global system. However, taking diversity seriously – beyond political slogans – and making it an organizing principle is challenging and only bring benefits in the long run. I know from experience.
Jean-Frédéric Morin is a CIC Fellow and Canada Research Chair at Laval University. As a CIC researcher, he will target two specific ideas, namely the liberalization of environmental technologies and environmental customs duties, on which he intends to engage with Canadians through traditional and digital media.