From either/or to and: Strengthening regions through Responsible Research and Innovation

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From either/or to and: Strengthening regions through Responsible Research and Innovation

In recent years, the philosopher and social scientist Bruno Latour has gone to great lengths to argue against a dichotomy that is constantly presented to us. We are repeatedly told that we can only choose between either:

  • a package deal which consists of cosmopolitanism, universal human rights, democracy, and economic globalisation, or
  • its opposite, in which nationalism, disregard for universal human rights, authoritarian control, and economic protectionism are bound together.

This choice is wrong, Latour claims, not because it does not have real consequences for the people subjected to the terrible downsides of either choice. It is wrong because it locks our discussion into a squabble that has gone on for centuries and one that is not useful in the current situation any longer.

Instead, Latour encourages us to accept that both package deals come with terrible side-effects and that declaring that these side-effects are the lesser evil compared to their alternative should not be accepted. Based on this acceptance, Latour hopes, a search for more and better alternatives can begin.

The TeRRItoria project is dedicated to just this: experimenting with alternatives to the either/or.

Allow me to give you an example:

In Norway, our project’s intervention aims at connecting universities with remote regions. In doing so, we find ourselves in the middle of the fight between those who protect their regions by rejecting globalisation and those who aim for economic growth through centralisation and global competition.

One would expect that the university, staffed by globetrotters, funded nationally, and competing internationally, is a natural ally for those who declare the death of remote communities to be an acceptable side-effect. And indeed, when the young and bright – and often also female – leave to get their education in the big city, these communities run out of arguments for their right to exist. Our experiment asks whether there are alternatives and it turns out that if you start to ask this question, answers start pouring in. For example, a large group of university researchers and teachers engages actively with remote communities producing both relevant knowledge for these regions and valuable research that has global significance.

This group that we call “the ambassadors” is only one example of the many phenomena that do not fit the simple picture of either global liberalisation or local inward-lookingness. Employing RRI in regional contexts and, by doing so, learning about and developing the ample spaces between the either-or is one of TeRRItoria’s central contributions.

If you would like to hear more about Bruno Latour’s analysis, check out a talk he gave on the 2nd of June 2016 at the School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AGg-oHzPsM&t=12s

Article written by Thomas Berker – Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Thomas Berker is a professor in science and technology studies with a focus on sustainable technology in society. He has a PhD in sociology from Frankfurt University and a master in sociology (major), political science and German language and literature (minors) from Frankfurt University.

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