Workshop: "Environmental Research between Knowledge and Action", December 9 - 10, 1999


Workshop: "Environmental Research between Knowledge and Action"

From 9 - 10 December 1999, a Workshop on "Environmental Research between Knowledge and Action" is organized by ITAS. The objective of this workshop is closely connected with the focal theme of problem-oriented research of this issue of the TA-Datenbank-Nachrichten.

Rationale and Purposes of the Workshop

In the eighties, environmental debates experienced two important thrusts which lead to important changes in environmental research: From the vantage point of the political system, it is the discussion about "Sustainable Development", and the fresh impetus of Global Change Research from the side of research itself.

The notion of Sustainable Development and the emergence of Global Change Research draw attention to two constitutive problems of the formation of contemporary Environmental Science: 

  1. Environmental problems have to be examined within a global perspective and, therefore, point to an integrated interdisciplinary approach, in particular, perspectives that cross the boundaries of the two cultures. 
  2. Nature can no longer be viewed as something separate and distinct from society. Ways of coping and relating to nature become part of a social decision-making process.

If this generally is a correct description, environmental research takes on a key role in the context of the modernizing process of society. On the one hand environmental research has to explore the complex relationship between social, political and economic development and environmental change, on the other hand the environmental sciences are confronted with the problem to generate knowledge that can be applied in decision making processes. Its interdependent ties with politics or other important institutional sectors of society clearly makes it a problem-driven, praxis-oriented scientific enterprise.

Within this new framework of environmental research and environmental politics, the social role of science therefore seems to undergo a fundamental change. To the degree to which science is called upon and increasingly brought into play in the search for solutions of practical societal problems, novel forms of producing scientific knowledge emerge. For our purposes two developments are of particular importance: changes of the organizational structure and the attitude toward politics in the scientific community.

What emerges is the structure of politicized science and therefore of new relations between action and knowledge. All future research remains locked within this mechanism of knowledge production and decision. Also, scientific doubt, skepticism or dispute are automatically linked with action and therefore practical, political decisions. What can be demonstrated with the example of climate research can no doubt also be illustrated and demonstrated with respect to the problem of bio-diversity, degradation of soil conditions, that is, essentially with all topics of global change research. As soon as changes in nature are scientifically attributed to human interference a spiral of knowledge production and decision in science and politics is created.

The Goals of the Workshop

The main objectives of the Workshop are 

Workshop Programme

The Workshop is organized by the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) of the Research Centre Karlsruhe. Workshop chairmen are Nico Stehr, University of Duisburg, and Gotthard Bechmann, ITAS. The Workshop is planned as a "closed event" with invited guests and only minor participation from outside. 

The presentations at the Workshop are grouped into four sections: 

Within each section adequate time is foreseen for discussion; the number of participants has been restricted in order to allow for an in-depth discussion of the major issues put forward at the Workshop.


Gotthard Bechmann
Institut für Technikfolgenabschätzung und Systemanalyse (ITAS)
Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)
Postfach 3640, 76021 Karlsruhe