Prof.dr.ir. Anne van den Ban
The research of the first professor, Anne van den Ban, focussed on individual adoption and decision-making processes. He argued that understanding the role of communication required insights from many disciplines including sociology, social psychology, communication science, pedagogy and marketing. This multi-disciplinary approach can still be recognised today.
During this first part of the history, a great deal of insight was gained on how different types of messages, media and methods might influence various stages of decision-making. In addition, expertise was developed on how communicative strategies could be tailored to the needs of specific clients and target groups. While these matters were initially studied in the context of agriculture, professor van den Ban soon expanded the activities of his research group in the direction of areas like health promotion and environmental education.
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Prof.dr.ir. Niels Röling
In 1983 Professor Van den Ban was succeeded by Professor Niels Röling. He recognised quickly that the science-based messages and technologies promoted by change agents were frequently inadequate and inapplicable for prospective clients. He began to problematise how such messages came about, and concluded that it was insufficient to only study communication between change agents and clients. His main argument was that many others (e.g. researchers, policy-makers, agro-industry, bureaucrats, etc.) influenced whether or not appropriate innovations came about.
As an alternative, Röling proposed to analyse and improve the functioning of (agricultural and other) Knowledge and Information Systems.The research of the group shifted to how such systems could be characterised, understood and managed as a whole, and on how science could become a more interactive endeavour. Röling was head of the department until 1989, but he remained member of the group as a special professor until his retirement in 2002. An important theme in his later work became the management of eco-systems and natural resources. A common denominator of Rölings work that is still visible today, is the emphasis on understanding collective learning processes within networks of interdependent actors operating in broader agro-ecological environment.
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Prof.dr. Cees van Woerkum
Cees van Woerkum studied Sociology of Mass Communication at Radboud University Nijmegen (formerly known as the Catholic University of Nijmegen). He received his PhD in 1984 on planning in communication programmes. Since 1971 he is working at the sub-department Communication Science. In the 70’s he was mostly working on the subject of communication through mass media and in the 80’s he moved to the area of policy development and implementation, focussing on communication as one of the policy instruments. From the 90’s onwards his main interest is communication and interactive policy making. Since 1989 he is professor and chair of the department. In 2001 he moved to the new chair Communication Strategies with an orientation on strategies to support change in everyday life situations and in the relationship between organisations and their environment.
Cees van Woerkum retired on 1 November 2011.
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Prof. Paul Richards
Paul Richards came to Wageningen in 1993 to start a new research group on Technology & Agrarian Development. The set goal was to establish closer cooperation between social science disciplines and the predominantly technology-focused departments of Wageningen University. The Wageningen environment allowed him to find ‘hard’ evidence for his lifelong study on the profound agro-ecological management skills of African farmers. With an interdisciplinary research team genetic confirmation of farmers’ selection strategies of rice was found. The farmer varieties included (accidental) crosses between African rice (O. glaberrima) and Asian rice (O. sativa), the kind of crosses plant breeders in international research institutes had been working on for years.
The research activities of Richards’ group in Wageningen spanned a variety of topics, all having his signature of paying close attention to people’s perceptions and skills in dealing with the challenges of the environments they live in. After his retirement, in 2010, he continued research in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The 2014-2015 Ebola crisis in the West-African region triggered an in-depth analysis of community health strategies, resulting in a monograph. Ongoing research on this topic is combined with continued interest in African farming.
In 2010 the Technology & Agrarian Development group was merged with the Communication and Innovation Studies group into the current Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group.
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Prof.dr. Michiel Korthals
Michiel Korthals (1949) studied Philosophy, Sociology and German at the University of Amsterdam and the Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg (Germany).
Korthals is interested from early on in communication and democracy, both theoretically and practically. He is convinced that these concepts required more philosophical attention and societal realization. After his dissertation on the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, showing a democratic deficit, he focused on educational and ethical aspects of these concepts. In linking theories of social and individual development with morality and ethics, and following Piaget and Habermas he studied the concept and practices of learning processes.
At Wageningen University from 1993 onwards, Korthals contributed to the development of a new discipline, food and agricultural philosophy and ethics, by showing that agriculture and food are not only means to survive but also ethical and cultural factors in understanding of and giving meaning to human life and life in general. As a consequence, agricultural and food technologies are seen as incorporating ethical and social and cultural assumptions, which implies that no innovation in that field can do without ethical and cultural assessment and realization proposals. Food Philosophy and Food Ethics are now a common subdiscipline in Philosophy.
Korthals has had many managerial functions, like Director of Social Sciences Department, WUR, and until recently chairman of the Supervisory Board of the FREE (Foundation for the Restoration of European Ecosystems), which is about 1500 Highlanders, Konik horses, Wisents and Rode Geuzen. He is chairman of Wouter Schatborn Foundation for new energy and member of the Board of Hoge Veluwe. In recent years he often performs with readings and poems about food, agriculture and nature.
The last five years, his research focuses on the relationship between global and local water, agriculture and environment, intellectual property, Global Warming, and hunger and malnutrition. In general, his academic interest covers bioethics (in particular food, animals and the environment), deliberative and democratic theories and pragmatism (Dewey).
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