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100th Dies Natalis – Celebrations at Wageningen

On 9 March 2018 Wageningen University & Research celebrated its 100th Dies Natalis, marking 100 years of Wageningen research and education excellence. The event kicked off a whole year of events. As part of the celebrations I had a the great honour of being awarded an honorary doctorate. The photo left shows me on the stage receiving my doctorate from the Rector Magnificus, Professor Arthur Mol.

This award was a wonderful surprise and it is really fantastic and rewarding to have my work recognised by such a prestigious University, and especially one that has been dedicated to working across disciplines and across nations to address fundamental and important questions around environment and development. As the University’s website explains, the title of honorary doctorate is awarded to outstanding and internationally renowned researchers working in one or more scientific disciplines in which Wageningen University & Research is active. In addition, the impact of the honorary doctor’s research on society must emphasise WUR’s role in society and its position as a socially oriented academic institution. Honorary doctorates are awarded once every five years to mark the anniversary of WUR.

The ceremony itself bestowed honorary doctorates on four of us – shown above – myself, systems ecologist and resilience pioneer Carl Folke from Stockholm University, evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonin from National Centre for Biotechnology Information in US, and plant scientist Fusuo Zhang from China Agricultural University’s College of Agricultural Resources and Environmental Sciences. How thrilling to be amongst such eminent scientists! In fact, I learned that I am only the 4th woman in Wageningen’s 100 year history to be awarded an honorary doctorate (4 out of 58). One of the others was Esther Boserup!

The overarching theme of this year’s Dies Natalis is ‘Unravelling Life: Wisdom and Wonder’ and the centennial activities are clustered around three major themes for three consecutive periods: ‘Life’, ‘Food’ and ‘Earth’.

As part of the day I also led a Masterclass (see photo). This was titled Exploring Human-environment Relations through a Social Ecological Lens: Some Prospects and Propositions. In the presentation I briefly reviewed some of my past work in environmental social science and how it has illuminated the role of gender and social difference, poverty and marginalisation, and people rooted in place. These relationships are at the core of our current sustainability challenges; we are repeated told that humanity faces a series of environmental crises, fuelled and perhaps even caused by the apparent dis-connection between people and biosphere. I proposed two frontiers of research to inform these challenges. The first hypothesises that empathy might be significant in engendering pro-social and pro-environmental change. The second, considers how we do our research and how we create knowledge for sustainability, and suggests transdisciplinary and reflexive approaches to explore multi-faceted human-environment relations.

My sincere thanks to Simon Bush and his group, the Rector Magnificus Arthur Mol, WUR President Louise Fresco, and all the colleagues at Wageningen who looked after me and my family so superbly well during our stay. It was a really wonderful three days and I will treasure the memories of that time. It is great to feel so appreciated and have my research recognised in this way. However, I strongly believe our work is always the produce of collaborations and working together – so I acknowledge and heartily thank all my collaborators over the years – students, colleagues, co-researchers, participants and practitioners – the work is our joint production!

All photos by Guy Ackermans

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