Cum laude for PhD thesis on posthumanist participation

Published on
September 15, 2023

‘Posthumanist participation: Beyond extractivism in the Dutch Wadden Sea Area’.

The Academic Board of Wageningen University has conferred a doctorate ‘cum laude’ (with distinction) to the thesis by dr. Marieke Meesters, who successfully defended it on 8 September.

Marieke’s thesis is titled ‘Posthumanist participation: Beyond extractivism in the Dutch Wadden Sea Area’. Her promotor is prof. dr. Esther Turnhout, with co-promotors dr. Jelle Behagel (Forest & Nature Conservation Policy Group) and dr. Judith van Leeuwen (Environmental Policy Group) .

In natural resource management, top-down participatory processes organised by firms and governmental oganisations are based on assumptions about who can participate and which issues are relevant. Marieke argues that these fail to ensure the rights of marginalised or dissident communities and for failing to ensure democratic processes. She therefore proposes an alternative concept of participation – ‘posthumanist participation’ which takes place through many ongoing processes which shape one another continuously. She veers away from humanist legacies which privileges the human, white, male, able-bodied body, in order to explore how posthumanist participation can resist extractivist harm in situations of ongoing resource management in the Dutch Wadden Sea, where gas, salt and sand are extracted, relocated and transformed.

Prof. dr. Turnhout told Marieke in her laudatio: “The thesis starts from the recognition that research not just describes but also creates realities. This recognition is well established in Science and Technology Studies but still uncomfortable for many scientists. Through your case studies and analyses, you did the important work of showing that it matters profoundly which possible realities end up being created by research and what interests are served by these realities.”

In addition to referring to the patterns of marginalisation resulting from these, Marieke – said prof. Turnhout – did not shy away from embedding and implicating herself in her research and in the extractivist mining and research practices she documented by writing herself into the stories and by continuously unsettling concepts and methods.

“Your thesis pushes the boundaries of our understanding of extractivism, politics, participation and research, and it is also a courageous piece of work.” The degree of cum laude is only awarded to PhD theses of the highest quality.

A triumphant Marieke tells her colleagues after the defence: "The cum laude thingy confirmed that I can trust my research intuition, and strengthened my confidence that I can basically just do whatever works for me, and that that will work out just fine. Hope this inspires other PhDs to just have fun, trust your gut, and don’t worry about what research is ‘supposed’ to look like according to someone else’s standards. We can decide for ourselves !!! (‘bepaal ik zelf wel!’)"

A copy of the thesis can be downloaded here.

You can watch a recording of the defence and ceremony here.