Many of today’s societal challenges – ranging from food security to climate change, sustainability to ecology, poverty to health inequity – are characterised by deep epistemic and value conflicts.
At CPT, our mission is to develop novel conceptual and policy-relevant understandings of these conflicts as the basis for clarifying (and reconfiguring) problems and proposing innovative solutions to government, industry and civil society. In our work we connect technical/scientific responses to such problems with societal and ethical engagement and inquiry, embracing core social values such as democracy, human rights, wellbeing, and equity.
A key characteristic of our work is that it is action-oriented and reflexive. We both study societal challenges, debates and change processes and intervene in such societal processes, often together with stakeholders.
This approach of ‘doing and studying’ is directed to three central research foci: (1) communication, dialogue and reflection (we do deliberation, and we critically reflect on it at the same time); (2) social/ethical values (we pursue certain values, such as integrity, and we reflect on them), and (3) interventions, innovation and social change (we do interventions, and study the process and effects at the same time).
Research at CPT: Action-oriented and Reflexive
Our research lines
We distinguish four research lines each of which embrace the CPT ‘doing and studying’ approach. The three chair groups are complementary in contributing to these research lines.
- Communication and change in the information society
Social change involves both individual change and social interaction, and at CPT we study and develop communication activities aimed at achieving change in WUR domain areas. At CPT we research the construction of meaning in interaction between the people and organisations involved with an issue, and the role of communication in shaping relationships between actors and the change processes they are involved in. Based on our analyses, we seek to contribute to intervention.
- Knowledge, contestation and cooperation in pluralist societiesIn contemporary societies, people and organisations have to communicate with multiple and competing values, identities and worldviews. This pluralism fundamentally affects how societies engage with questions around food, health or the environment. At CPT, we study the role of pluralism and contestation in communication and knowledge production practices. Yet we also seek to empower the role of civil society in policy-making, identifying new spaces for the empowerment of citizens and practitioners and suggesting practical improvements to conflict management. We develop novel forms of ethical deliberation and societal engagement aimed at mutual understanding and cooperation. This is not only a matter of process; we also offer analysis of specific value conflicts by clarifying and reflecting on normative assumptions, concepts, practices, arguments and metaphors.
- Responsible innovation systemsAt WUR, science and innovation are increasingly directed at solving global challenges. Yet, many innovations that are promoted to meet these challenges fail to be embedded in society either because they are overly technocratic and regarded in isolation, or because they are unable to see how proposed solutions may be generating new social, ethical and environmental problems and dilemmas. This is an emblematic issue in WUR domain areas given the acute societal controversy surrounding previous innovations in the life sciences, particularly genetically modified crops and foods. At CPT we develop systemic approaches to innovation processes bringing social, organisational and technical components together, promoting knowledge exchange and learning between stakeholders, and enabling interaction between natural and social scientists in transdisciplinary research. Through working with stakeholders at an early stage, we develop, apply and critically reflect on responsible innovation to help shape and adjust technological and social innovation, so that it becomes embedded in society in a fair and accountable way.
- Philosophical and empirical analysis of core concepts and normative argumentsIn this research line, we critically examine core concepts and principles that are often taken for granted in research, policy and practice in the WUR domains. How should we understand ‘risk’, ‘health’ and ‘safety’ in various policy contexts (e.g. food production and public health)? Can we develop a coherent understanding of what is ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable’ (e.g. in relation to food production or nature development)? How should we evaluate debates on intensive versus extensive livestock farming from an ethical perspective? What are the moral limits and justifications of patent regulation in the life sciences? We combine philosophical reflection and empirical research with stakeholder deliberation to better understand ethical dilemmas and develop morally justifiable solutions in policy and practice.