Climate change, resource depletion, biodiversity loss, poverty and malnutrition, unhealthy human lifestyles: these are the great challenges of our time. To face these major challenges and to achieve a fair and sustainable society, transitions are necessary. Within the department of social sciences of WUR, business scientists, economists, sociologists, historians, policy scientists, legal scholars, philosophers, health scientists, innovation scientists, communication scientists and education scientists work together on these major issues and transitions.
As social scientists, we, of course, look at challenges and transitions through the lens of our own discipline. But that is not all. At the same time, we are particularly well equipped to connect different disciplines and perspectives. Perhaps that is our most important strength and added value as social scientists at WUR: our ability to bring in the knowledge and approach of our own discipline, and at the same time integrate the various disciplines and approaches. Because in order to find answers to the pressing issues and to make the required transitions successful, we have no choice but to work in a multi- and trans-disciplinary manner.
Responsible and fair
The great global challenges in our domain are first and foremost social challenges. We humans have caused them with our behaviour. One-dimensional technical solutions are therefore never the only way to solve these problems. Of course, we need innovative technical solutions, but fundamentally it is about social change. This concerns, for example, the question of how a transition can proceed responsibly and fairly: how do we prevent power inequality from arising and ending up in a situation with too great differences between winners and losers? Inclusivity, fair distribution and combating polarisation and conflict are therefore important themes in our research.
Understanding the great challenges as first and foremost societal problems requires asking questions. Quick fixes do not lead to sustainable solutions, but to new problems. We therefore ask fundamental questions about underlying frames and values. In order to achieve real understanding and truly sustainable solutions, it is vital to take a step back and look at things from a distance. This often leads to a new perspective, a different approach. To reconfiguration of the question or the problem.
With our research we also make important contributions to transitions that are already underway or that are needed. We study and think through how to change or improve systems, practices and behaviour and how to build support in society. This is how we contribute to designing a better future. For example, we look at which interventions, instruments and measures work and which do not. We evaluate the impact of policy, legislation and new technology.
Together is a key concept in our research. As social scientists at WUR we are steeped in the idea that science takes shape together with partners and at the heart of society. Methods such as co-creation, co-production, dialogue, action research, participatory research, living labs, citizen science and communities of practice therefore form a prominent part of our toolbox. In essence this is who we are: scientists from different disciplines who work together with a broad variety of partners on the transitions that are necessary to achieve a society that is more equal, more sustainable and healthier. If WUR's central motto "Finding answers together" takes shape anywhere, it is here at the WUR Department of Social Sciences.