We study social problems and opportunities which emanate in the spheres of agriculture and life-sciences and which touch upon the promises and pitfalls of knowledge, technology and social innovation. We are internationally oriented and have many contacts and research partners in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Europe.
The below word cloud presents some keywords related to processes that we study.
We study such processes in connection with various bio-material domains of innovation.
As well as the social fields of innovation that enable or constrain bio-material change.
History learns that the application of new ideas and knowledge can have considerable influence on the way societies are organised and transformed. Our lives and social relations would be radically different without cars, modern seeds, computers or medical technologies. Against this background, rapid advances in science and technology are widely regarded as key to addressing pressing societal problems such as poverty, disease and environmental degradation. Novel breeding techniques, alternative energy sources and new mobile communication devices are viewed as quintessential to improving the quality of life.
However, knowledge and technology become frequently contested. Their application in society often has a bright and a dark side, which deserves more thorough scrutiny. Scientific knowledge can help solve problems, but it may also exacerbate existing inequalities or trigger new tensions in social systems. The uptake of technical or social innovations is sometimes pursued in order to promote values and goals which are not agreed upon in society, and hence may be linked to political struggles and competing views on how society should be organised. Even more, many ideas and innovative solutions regarded as ‘good’ and ‘promising’ are not implemented successfully either because they are actively resisted by powerful interests, or because they do not fit the social, institutional or ecological context in which they are promoted. Last, strategies and methods of communicating about science and technology can also influence the development and use of innovative solutions.
If view of such complexities, we witness efforts from e.g. international organisations, funding agencies, scientists, agri-businesses, and farmers to ‘democratise science’ and to embed research in multi-stakeholder ‘innovation platforms’ or ‘learning alliances’. Here too, we see promises and pitfalls. In some settings such platforms become effective spaces for interaction, dialogue and collaboration, but in others we witness lack of accountability, exclusion and/or inability to handle the tensions and conflicts that are inherent in initiatives which aim to bring about meaningful change.
Research conducted at the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group aims to reply to questions such as:
- How do knowledge and technology influence social relations, and vice versa? How are the benefits and risks from technology distributed among different individuals, groups and societies?
- What kind of knowledge, technology and innovation do economic sectors within different societies need and for what purpose? What social innovations are needed to create space to redress poverty, disease and environmental degradation?
- Through which processes are agenda’s for research and innovation support defined? Which stakeholders and groups are more influential and why?
- How effective are new and old communication strategies in fostering constructive dialogue, learning and knowledge exchange among scientists and societal groups?
- How do individual perspectives and prevailing modes of social organisation affect the uptake of promising technologies and ideas?
- How can the demands and local knowledge of marginalised groups become more articulate and prominent? How can science become more democratic?
- How do policy driven and self-organised initiatives for change and innovation interact? How do different stakeholders influence societal discourses and coalitions for or against certain trajectories of change?
We do research which is both critical and policy-relevant. In engaging with academic debates on science, technology and innovation policy, we offer new perspectives on the integrative and interdisciplinary study of the social and the bio-material world. At the same time, albeit questioning mainstream celebratory accounts of innovation, we work together with policy-makers, practitioners, innovation brokers and intermediaries, at the national, European and global level, helping them untangle complexity and make decision making more participatory.
See also Relevance to society.
Our educational goal is to train professionals with the necessary analytical and practical skills to understand complex socio-technical problems and develop a holistic view towards social and technological development. Our students learn how to study the relationship between technology, social organisation and human efforts to interpret, influence and make meaning in the context of innovation and change trajectories. Linked to these analytical capacities, our students develop professional skills to formulate research and extension policies and broader communicative and political strategies to foster responsible innovation and international development.
'We are not students of some subject matter, but students of problems. And problems may cut right across the borders of any subject matter or discipline.’ (Popper, 1963)
In this spirit of the above statement, the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group is an interdisciplinary group that combines and integrates expertise from natural sciences with social science disciplines: innovation studies, development studies, communication science, political ecology, science, technology and society studies (STS), anthropology, sociology, political science, philosophy and history.