Climate change and the global decline of biodiversity are just two examples of the many sustainability challenges faced by societies today. The complex, urgent and contested nature of these problems and potential solutions poses 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. In her work Sandra van her Hel asks how such ambitions of science for sustainability become institutionalised, and what the implications are for the relationship between science and governance for sustainability.
Her work is based on an in-depth mixed method (including scientometrics!) 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.
She argues for the need to rethink the relationship between science and politics for sustainability. 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.