Science and Subjectivity

Organised by Stichting Otherwise Wageningen

Thu 23 May 2019 20:00 to 22:00

Venue Forum, building number 102

Do scientists collect hard data or heart data? Meaning, do personal motivations, intuitions and feelings have an influence on scientific research? What does it mean when scientists try to be without personal bias? Join OtherWise in this panel discussion with Esha Shah, Arjen Wals and Rik Leemans to discuss these questions and many more.

How engaged can scientists be in their own research? In this evening, we will reflect upon the objectivity of the scientific method. Also rationality is considered to be something that is situated in the brain and feelings and intution are typically more related to the body and heart. What does this mean if you are a scientist, is it possible to engage in your work as a whole(-hearted) human, or are you expected to use only your brain? Does the scientific method require this division between body and mind?

Sometimes the data collected by scientific research can be alarming, as is the case with studies about climate change. OtherWise organised an event on this topic on the 25th of April (Inner Sustainability Talk#1). Also scientific research in topics such as poverty, hunger and ecosystem degradation can have alarming outcomes. During this event we will also discuss if this kind of data also should stimulate scientists towards taking action. Does having knowledge about something makes you responsible?


Esha Shah, assistant professor Department of Environmental Sciences. In the last 3-4 years, she is developing her research interests on the way in which subjectivity (including emotions and affects) shape modes of political rationality, normativity, including objectivity in scientific knowledge. Who is the agentic self? How it is formed and how it is intertwined with the making of rationality (public, political or scientific)? On this topic, she has recently completed a monograph (accepted by Routledge for the publication) on Who is the Science Subject?: Affective History of the Gene. The book contributes to the emerging debates in philosophy of science on what is science and how it is done and what is the role of subjectivity and intersubjectivity in shaping objectivity.

Arjen Wals, Professor Transformative Learning for Socio-ecological Sustainability/Unesco Chair. His teaching and research focus on designing learning processes and learning spaces that enable people to contribute meaningfully sustainability. A central question in his work is: how to create conditions that support (new) forms of learning which take full advantage of the diversity, creativity and resourcefulness that is all around us, but so far remain largely untapped in our search for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect?

Rik Leemans, Professor Environmental Systems Analysis. He implements research projects world-wide and actively involves young scientists from developing countries in his projects. Over the last decade he has become one of the world leaders in developing and integrating innovative natural and social science knowledge to tackle major policy-relevant Earth System questions with inter- and transdisciplinary approaches.