RESEARCH | CEI-Iscte researchers win FCT individual stimulus

The Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) awarded individual stimulus to three researchers from CEI-Iscte: Troy Sternberg, Yonatan Gez and Marcelo Moriconi. Find out more about the proposals.

Troy Sternberg (Principal Researcher)


As resource hotspots Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia are investment epicentres at the heart of China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (ST 17). The programme promises to construct mines, roads, rail, energy and digital ‘corridors of connectivity’ in 100+ countries from Inner Asia to Portugal and beyond (TO 20; DA 20). Presented as ‘win-win’, investment can reconfigure communities, social interactions and environments in host nations on the New Silk Road. Yet a significant research gap exists in Inner Asia where my scoping work identified a lack of BRI research (ST 17; ST 20a). This Stimulus proposal uses mixed- methods to analyse 1) landscape and environmental impact of BRI through remote sensing and fieldwork (ST 20a), 2) rural communities’ perception, experience and strategies of change in BRI engagement through resident and stakeholder interviews and literature review (ST 20b), and 3) compares and contrasts BRI outcomes across three host nations (UN 17). The pioneering research amplifies my career trajectory as an Inner Asian expert and establishes ISCTE as a global leader in BRI research.

Vital research will document BRI transformations, address Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 9 (infrastructure) and 11 (communities) and create South to South knowledge and exchange within Inner Asia relevant to BRI host nations globally (UN 17). Here restive populations in the transitioning ex-Soviet states confront marginality, degradation, conflict and lack of perceived benefit that may create a ‘lose-lose’ BRI narrative (ST 20b). Transport corridors can become Covid-19 pathways and (over)promised outcomes are often illusory (TO 20). Yet positive community development agreements have been negotiated (ST 19) and the SDG paradigm presents opportunities for community and landscape improvement (LE 21). Implications for food, livelihoods, water resources, geo-politics, security and governmentality are additional avenues for assessment (KL 20). Personal experience, ongoing collaboration with Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Mongolian universities and NGOs and my academic networks (Japan, China, Germany, US, UK) facilitate the research and contribute to Portuguese academic excellence.

Research on Belt and Road Initiative themes face uncertainty, regional development challenges and strategic change on the New Silk Road. Key findings will define BRI impact, initiate an Inner Asian BRI perspective and consolidate my international authority on BRI, Sustainable Development Goals, Inner Asian landscapes and development pathways. This investigation documents my career expertise, builds international leadership centred at ISCTE and inspires my teaching, research and scholarship. Importantly, BRI knowledge and findings from Inner Asia pertain to current and future Portuguese engagements with China’s BRI (DA 20).


Yonatan Gez (Assistant Researcher)


Since 2018, a new wave of climate activism has been emerging. Associated above all with young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s Fridays For Future and the UK-originated Extinction Rebellion, this new wave is predominantly young, female-led, educated, and globally minded. Through civic disobedience and nonviolent direct action, these new actors try to reverse complacency in the face of the climate crisis. In the process, they challenge entrenched hierarchies (generational, gender).

The project will employ the prism of wellness to better understand this new climate activism. Environmentalism is closely associated with experiences of well-being (e.g., eco-anxieties) and with the shaping of lifestyle decisions and adult values (e.g., voluntary childlessness, veganism). While scholars note that activism, and youth activism in particular, is associated with expressive self-making, climate action seems particularly axial as “a world-building project” through which the future is imagined and created. When departing from cultural consensus, the eco-sensitive may be denounced as uninvited ‘killjoys’, and their non- consensual social stance may result in struggle, frustration, and further anxieties. Such social disruptions, however, might be forgiven when authored by youth, whose liminal state accommodates moral exploration.

More specifically, the project will discuss how the tension between climate activism as an opportunity for self- accomplishment and as a cause for social rupture and denunciation plays out in sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s youngest region, where the challenge of coming of age and its prolonged blockage (‘waithood’) have been widely documented. Even so, and while both Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion claim multiple chapters across this climate-vulnerable region, so far there has been little academic research on the subject.

In practical terms, the project’s 6 years will involve both a regional scale (based on digital ethnography) and a country-specific scale (involving in-person fieldwork). Data gathering for both scales will be divided into two cycles, which will be spaced apart so as to allow perspective on real-time organizational, socio-political, and environmental changes. As many climate activists in Sub-Saharan Africa are minors or otherwise vulnerable, the project will pay careful attention to ethical questions.

The project’s academic output will include publications (articles, monograph), professional development (habilitação/agregação), academic events (including organization of an international conference), and the development of new university courses. In addition, I will create a public-facing podcast series based on young activists’ testimonies, and will write a public report aimed at decision makers and climate actors.


Marcelo Moriconi (Assistant Researcher)


According to EUROPOL, sports corruption is one of the main organized crime activities within the EU. The infiltration of criminals in sports is considered the greatest threat to the sustainability of this fast-growing sector of economy that already accounts for more than 2% of Europe’s GDP and almost 3% of its employment. The expansion of the global online sports-betting-market has created new and more complex opportunity structures for transnational crimes and frauds. For the Council of Europe, the phenomenon should be a priority in the political agendas of all Member States. Despite the entry into force of its Convention against the Manipulation of Sports Competitions in 2019, the problem remains understudied. Several academics have emphasized the need for better empirical research to verify/falsify the (sometimes unfounded) premises around which the official narrative of the problem is structured. Several aspects and supposed characteristics of the phenomenon are transformed into axiomatized premises without presenting data to support them. This is a serious cognitive limitation for promoting effective and coherent countermeasures. Although match-fixing and betting fraud are fast moving international crimes, they still face a chronic lack of fully integrated and articulated responses from sports, governments, or society at large. Heterogeneous legal frameworks, stakeholder conflicts of interest, non-harmonized enforcement measures, inefficient strategy and tactics, and lack of efficient cooperation all contribute to the continued success and profits for organized crime.

Meanwhile, the lacuna of holistic in-depth analysis has a negative effect on prevention programs that fail to produce expected results: professional fixers adapt their processes and modus operandi in response to stronger countermeasures; wrongdoing and illegal practices, such as betting on one’s own competitions, continue among sports actors despite educational programs; disciplinary and legal obligations are stipulated, such as the obligation of reporting, but integrity officers recognize that the conditions to protect those who blow the whistle offer no real guarantee of protection; legal and disciplinary frameworks are created and imposed but, subsequently, they are impossible to be effectively implemented due to a lack of human, economic, or technical resources; and, finally, corruption continues to affect several sports entities that present themselves as leaders of the fight for integrity.

Based on significant preparatory evidence & databases acquired through the implementation of international projects (in partnership with relevant stakeholders), this proposal aims to a) map the landscape of the infiltration of organized crime in sports, b) analyse, in a comparative perspective, perceptions and attitudes of in-field sports actors and out-field integrity actors about wrongdoing in sports, and c) structure a holistic framework for sports and betting integrity policies.


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CEI-Iscte (Centre for International Studies) is a university-based multidisciplinary research center at ISCTE - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL). CEI-Iscte aims at promoting interdisciplinary research in Social Sciences, International Relations and Economy, focusing in its areas of geographic specialisation: Africa, Asia, Europe, and Transatlantic Relations.

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