Excavating Fossilized Data: A cross-cut analysis of the ties between university research and fossil industries.
“Cut the ties!” With this slogan, various activist movements have recently been calling for the abolishment of relations between fossil industries and the education and research at (Dutch) universities (Van Pelt, 2023). Yet, there are also natural scientists, academic governors and business leaders who argue that we need to cooperate with these industries to achieve a sustainable energy transition. This public controversy unfolds as climate and biodiversity crises accelerate and ever more planetary boundaries are being crossed. Clearly, significant scientific, commercial and ecological interests are at stake. What seems beyond dispute is a belief that scientific research matters in the transition towards a sustainable society. However, there is fundamental disagreement as to what organizational form for scientific research will deliver on this promise (Jong, 2006; Smit, 2021): should it be in proximity to, or in strict isolation from, the companies that have built up extensive bodies of technical expertise in energy and infrastructure, but that also contribute disproportionally to historical greenhouse gas emissions and of which some have infamously frustrated climate action? Ultimately, this bounded epistemic issue in science governance raises the political question what a ‘sustainable transition’ should look like in technical, economic and socio-political terms (Avelino, Grin, Pel & Jhagroe, 2016).
In this interdisciplinary, interfaculty project we like to synergise our own academic efforts that have all touched in different ways on knowledge politics. We do this by systematically mapping and collaboratively scrutinizing current university-industry ties in the energy domain at Dutch and Belgian institutes. We employ an innovative mixed methods approach to dig deeper into the current public-private paradigm of science governance. Innovative, because we will combine longitudinal quantitative analysis with rich ethnographic studies. We particularly focus on the traces in existing data sources (like Web of Science, Cordis, EPO) of the interactions between university research and industries in the energy domain, and within that sample we will pay special attention to the presence and/or absence of carbon-intensive fossil industries. We will combine this quantitative data with qualitative explorations of specific ties, enabling both descriptions and explanations of the epistemic effects of various organizational forms. With our research, we aim to contribute to the complex challenge of a sustainable transition by excavating and explaining the long-term effects of public-private organizational forms on the orientation and circulation of climate-related science
Leiden University Kiem seed grant, an initiative for developing new interdisciplinary, interfaculty research partnerships and encounters.
16 months, Sep 2023 – Dec 2024
university-industry collaboration, science policy, decarbonization, climate activism, mixed methods
Leiden University (Faculty of Science, Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs)