Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment
Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment

Sandra van der Hel

Date: 11 September 2020
Time: 14:30 - 15:15
Location: University Hall, Domplein 29, Utrecht

Dissertation title: 

New Science Institutions for Global Sustainability

Group: Utrecht University, Environmental Governance
Promotors: prof. dr. F.H.B. Biermann and prof. dr. A.C. Petersen


The promotion of Sandra van der Hel is related to the institutionalization of ambitions of science for sustainability and what the implications are for the relationship between science and governance for sustainability. Nowadays, there are complex, urgent and contested problems, such as climate change and the global decline in biodiversity, and potential solutions for these problems pose unprecedented challenges for both science and governance. Responding to these challenges, sustainability researchers seek to advance new ways of doing science that are more interdisciplinary, co-produced, inclusive and solutions-oriented. The thesis is based on an in-depth case study of the global research platform Future Earth: research for global sustainability, which was launched in 2012. Principles of science for sustainability form an important rationale shaping the development of Future Earth. Yet, in institutionalising these principles, tensions emerge between different perspectives on the appropriate role of science in society. Specifically, the ambition to inform and shape sustainability transformations contradicts with the separation between science and politics that is deeply engrained in scientific institutions. Eventual institutional designs tend to conceal the inevitable politics embedded in the ambitions, institutions and effects of science for sustainability. As a result, the relationship between science and politics for sustainability needs to be rethought. Sustainability transformations are about normative visions of desirable futures, which cannot be seen separate from the knowledge that informs and supports transformations. Thus, in pursuing sustainability transformations, a strict separation between science and politics is not only impossible but also undesirable.