Prof. Helga Nowotny, President of the European Research Council and Professor emerita of Social Studies of Science, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, received the degree “doctor honoris causa” on November 25, 2011 at the occasion of the 50 years celebrations of the University of Twente, The Netherlands, in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix. Prof. Nowotny’s honorary promotor, Prof. Stefan Kuhlmann, characterized the work of the honorary doctor as perfectly in line with a main characteristic of the University of Twente’s profile: “For decades Professor Nowotny has been concerned with exploring the options and limitations of the social, ethical and political shaping of science and technology in society”. The full text of Kuhlmann’s laudatio can be found below.
“Prof. Helga Nowotny is an excellent honorary doctor of the University of Twente: For decades she has been concerned with exploring the options and limitations of the social, ethical and political shaping of science and technology in society. We must not forget: Science and Technology are the work of humans. Through scientific work and technological development we humans shape and change our societies, consciously or not. The options and promises of advanced science and technology open up new fantastic views on how humans could construct their bodies, minds, social relations and institutions. At the same time, options emerge that many people find disturbing or frightening. Think for instance of genetic engineering. Obviously, there are manifold potential futures, often contested, and they are “fragile”. In her recent book “The Naked Genes” she wrote:
In today’s polis we find many actors and perspectives. Scientists themselves are actors in the polis; this holds certainly for the social scientist and thinker Helga Nowotny! Her concern about options and directions of science and technology in society have made her to become a dedicated zoon politicon (a conscious, active citizen), in the worlds of science, of science policy and beyond.
Helga Nowotny has been a key figure in the diagnosis of a "Mode 2 of knowledge production", fore-grounding knowledge production in the context of application. And she has extended this diagnosis to that of a "Mode 2 society", in which science and universities have many more interactions with society. Our University is addressing this new context explicitly: with a design orientation and an entrepreneurial approach, with dedicated collaboration of technical and social faculties, and with the combination of excellence and relevance. Nowotny's works and diagnosis offer a deeper justification of such approaches, and will allow us to further improve them. As zoon politicon Helga Nowotny has accepted, in Spring last year, the position of the President of the European Research Council, the ERC, an important institutional innovation in the European research system, with potentially far reaching impact on the future landscape of science. Earlier Helga Nowotny was Professor of Social Studies of Science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology; she was also professor of Social Studies of Science at the University of Vienna, and she held various positions in Berlin, Paris, Bielefeld, Cambridge, New York and Vienna.
But first and foremost, Helga Nowotny has been a seminal writer; she published many books and more than 300 articles in scientific journals. Publications include, beyond the mentioned book, thoughtful works such as „Insatiable Curiosity. Innovation in a Fragile Future”; “Cultures of Technology and the Quest for Innovation”; “Re-Thinking Science. Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty”.
Helga, the University of Twente is proud to have the chance of linking-up with both your intellectual force and your political courage. We are looking forward to new inspiring books of yours and your continued engagement in the polis – of science and technology and beyond.”
In her response Prof. Helga Nowotny stated: "The University of Twente is a university understanding well that technological development requires a social imbedding".
The day before, on November 24, 2011, Prof. Helga Nowotny was key note speaker at a Symposium “Social Science in Context – Thematic and Institutional Perspectives”, organized by the Institute for Innovation and Governance Studies (IGS) of the University of Twente (UT). The central question of the symposium was: What is the appropriate role of the social sciences in dealing with the challenges of societal and techno-economic global change, and how should this role be institutionalized? The symposium was chaired by Prof. Stefan Kuhlmann, UT/IGS. Helga Nowotny’s key note was on “The place of the social sciences in a world of our making: With the ongoing transformation of the life of our societies and their economies accelerating, the attention of governments, funding agencies and universities is focusing almost exclusively on the techno-sciences and their innovation potential as well as on the recruitment of the next generation of students into STEM disciplines. The social sciences – with the exception of economics – are curiously absent from public policy discourse. I analyze some of the more obvious, and some not-so obvious reasons for this blind spot, drawing also on the experience of the ERC so far (where funding of the social sciences and humanities reaches 17%). I invite discussion on what can and should be done to strengthen the profile, content, methodologies and modes of working of the social sciences.”
Other invited speakers of the symposium were Prof. Ed Brinksma, Rector of the University of Twente; Prof. Kees Aarts, Scientific Director IGS/UT; Prof. Franciska de Jong, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO); Babs van den Bergh, Director Research & Science Policy, Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, The Hague; and Dr. René von Schomberg, European Commission, Directorate General Research.