The new university – truly global at last

Sondre Jahr Nygaard

By Sondre Jahr Nygaard

The university as we know it will not survive. Global universities should be their successors.

The traditional universities have existed in the same form for the last thousand years. They have become institutions of considerable power, providing citizens with both cultural and economic capital. Despite this, is it time for a change? Technology can transform the university population from homogenous to heterogenous. We need to rethink the university’s role in society. At the first modern university, the University of Bologna formed in 1088, teaching was conducted in lecture halls by reading aloud for the students from a book.

Sound familiar?

Even though reading aloud from a book is not as common as it used to be, the very idea about how education is conducted haven’t changed much. Still, new students are met with traditional lectures held at universities which have been located in approximately the same place for the last hundred or so years. In 11th century Bologna, lectures were an effective way to communicate knowledge. The printing press would not be invented by Gutenberg for another 400 years, making books rare and expensive. Over time, society has developed, along with knowledge production and development of technology. Universities, however, have stayed largely the same.

Borderless education

This presents a paradox. Of all institutions, it should be the university that endorses new ways of thinking. Universities should advocate radical new innovations and research-based education. An example of this is Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). These are internet-based university courses where anyone can enroll regardless of qualifications. And they’re free! The technology has been developed to promote pedagogical interactions between students and teachers regardless of their location. All of a sudden, we have a global conversation.

With the development of MOOCs, we have seen that it is possible to use technology to make studying more exible. MOOCs are challenging traditional education, as they do not require you to be in close proximity to your professor for higher education. As long as you have a computer connected to the internet, you can attend courses from the world’s top institutions wherever you want.

Mutual understanding is key in creating a world that can cooperate and solve global challenges. Creating mutual understanding through global learning experiences should be high on the agenda for both policy makers and people within the university sector. It would make it possible for someone from Sweden to discuss sustainable urban planning with someone from India or USA. People have different views and capabilities based on their backgrounds. Reaping the benefits of this diversity is a lesson that is becoming more and more important in an increasingly globalized and connected world. MOOCs’ most competitive advantage over traditional education is perhaps that they bring people together who under other circumstances would not discuss ideas together.

University culture

A transition from geographically- fixed universities to globalized universities is no easy task. The university system is highly resistant to change. Its societal construct can be thought of as analogous to that of a tribe. The university consists of many tribal kings and queens that to a large extent have autonomy over their own work. There is really no “boss” that can say “do this or you’ll be fired”.

Maybe intimidating practices are not the way to go. However, there is a cultural problem that there is such an inherent resistance to change that the university may make itself obsolete. Could these tendencies towards resistance to change push forward better options? And would that be a bad thing? Some have called MOOCs disruptive, and even revolutionary. Still, not much has changed since many universities started to offer them a few years ago. I would say they provide incremental changes. As more people get access to the internet, however, MOOCs may become more popular, especially with those who stand to bene t the most from them – the poor majority of the world. With better education can bring new ideas and solutions and challenge the established ways of doing things.

Who is knowledge for?

Knowledge is global and should not be constrained by borders and boundaries. Climate change, poverty and equality are all challenges that are greater than national borders; therefore, their solutions will have to be global in scope. To understand the context in which we live, we have to talk to each other, and we do not do that by attending universities that largely consist of the privileged middle class. The sad fact is that universities today are dependent on specific geography, which hinders the free ow of information, education, and research.

Bloody feminism

Cecilie Bjordal

Sesilie Bjørdal

Feminism – an out of fashion fortress with a moat featuring murky period blood where men and their penises cry out for mercy as they drown, or a political hot potato never going out of style?

“You know,” my mother says, “he got the job instead of you because he is a man, that’s how the society works.” My father keeps his eyes safely fixed on the meatballs on his dinner plate. I can almost hear my heart rate accelerate as I take the bait laid out by my mum. “Of course not! He was the better applicant!” I argue smashing my fist to the table making meatballs fly about. “No,” my mum says calmly “it is because he is a man and you are not.”

My mother was born in the fifties into both a time of stay-at-home mums making meatballs from scratch and a time of great change and emancipation for Norwegian women. I was born in 1991 into a society of working mums; even the prime minister was female that year. I was born into the luxury of believing that I had every bit as many opportunities as my fellow male classmates and was just as clever. My mother and I might live in the same country in the same century, but our outlook on society and feminism is shaped by our different experiences. My reality is not my mother’s reality, my feminism is not my mother’s feminism, nor my grandmother’s feminism.

This does not mean that I think the golden age for feminism has passed, I believe it has changed character but that does not make it any less important. Thanks to feminists like my mother whom has paved the way before me, I can take basic political and economic rights for granted and give my opinion freely. So bear with me as a take this opportunity to utter a word women and men still whispers under their breath (it is quite shocking so please brace yourself): menstruation.

It has been argued that feminism today has no one particular cause like for instance women’s suffrage, but rather covers a range of both vast and smaller topics affecting the role of women in society. I find this descriptive of my feminism, I would like to call it incremental feminism; those seemingly small, but yet oh so large, obstacles that impede women in their everyday life. All those little crests build up to towering mountains still separating woman from living lives equal to men. Period, the monthly, the flow, shBlood dropletark week, menses. Blood.

In my view menstruation has become a blind spot for innovation, and thus a manifestation of the continuing need to focus on the role of women. The user pull for innovations is hard to spot when even articulating the user implications of a sanitary pad can make a grown man blush. Even the people earning money on the monthly blood bath, tell us that periods are something to be ashamed of. As the world is still too squeamish to face the colour red while at the same time talking about periods, a blue, sterile looking fluid represents period blood in commercials for sanitary products. How very considerate.

At the age of thirteen I was the proud owner of a mobile phone sporting a colour screen, cheeky polyphonic ringtones as well as the possibility to send and receive the mystical “MMS”. At this age I was using sanitary pads, and I had just discovered tampons. By the time I was 18 years old, tampons with a slicker surface for more comfortable insertion had appeared and pads became thinner and less prone to leak, they even kept you “comfortably dry” – a feature celebrated by both menstruating women and diaper wearing toddlers all over the world. Not bad at all. The iPhone had also come into existence. Today I’m 25 years old and mobile phones have turned into computers you can make calls with, all fitting comfortably in your pocket. And I’m still using the exact same tampons and sanitary pads. Compared to other product groups, innovations within “feminine hygiene” are moving with the speed of glaciers. Why is the dominant design for menstrual hygiene still either a bleached cotton pad that you by glue stick to your panties or a bleached cotton tampon? It has even been argued that the bleached cotton products we use so many days a year can have an unfortunate physical effects, as well as cause other uncomfortable mischieves like yeast infections. The last thing I heard described as an invention within the handling of periods was a pair of underwear that you can use without a pad and still be protected. Only downside is that they cost about 250 NOK a pair, I haven’t seen them in Norwegian shops yet and they will not do on heavy days.

One should think that a monthly event in the lives of almost every second human being between the age of 13 and 45 years old should make for a very interesting market to enter. But then again, why make a durable product when there is so much money to be earned on a product that is usually overpriced and needs to be thrown away after one use? Women are revisiting old invention like the mooncup, in order to find more environmentally friendly options. And just by the way, in this day and age, is it still necessary even to have our periods? With cramps and all? Shouldn’t there have been a cure by now, not counting birth control pills? And on that note: Where did the male contraceptive pill go? But that’s a discussion for another time.

So was my mother right, are we still living in a man’s world? Only considering my own everyday life I am tempted to say no, at the same time is the lack of innovation and information within something as basic and natural as periods is a proof that it is still a man’s world where a woman’s challenges comes in second. There are as many flavours of feminism as there are feminists. Pick your topic, pick your fight or pick them all, but most importantly stick with it because neither periods nor feminism are going out of style anytime soon.


Lasse Gullvåg Sætre

By Lasse Gullvåg Sætre

Naming an epoch is not just for geologists, stratigraphers and climate scientists. It has also become the concern of “softer” fields, like feminism, science fiction, rap music, and the political rights of crustaceans.

To change an epoch

After years of deliberations, Paul Crutzen and the other members of the Anthropocene Working Group (WGA) of the International Geological Congress have concluded that the Anthropocene concept is backed by sound science and stratigraphy. The Earth is changing underneath our feet, and production of knowledge is changing with it. The term Anthropocene was popularized from year 2000 on, with Crutzen, the Dutch winner of the 1995 Nobel prize in chemistry, as central author. Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist, has worked actively for an official recognition of the Anthropocene period as a successor to the Holocene period in geology.

While geology and stratigraphy are traditionally “hard” scientific fields, geological questions are now engaging scholars from the humanities and social sciences as well. The WGA conclusion is part of assembling the geological concept “Anthropocene”, but naming contestations reveal the political fluidity of creating a new epoch. Coloring in the stuff and meaning of an epochal change can seem to be as much an art as it is a science. Scientific practices, esthetics, grand history, complex systems, ecological, and critical theory are all mobilized in a kind of parental naming conflict.

The word “anthropocene” comes from the Greek anthropos, meaning of human or man, and kainos, meaning “new”. The proposed Anthropocene epoch is characterised by humanity’s ability to act as a geophysical force, as powerful as volcanoes or tectonic plates. According to the term’s proponents, we have entered an epoch where mankind is the primary agent of geological change. With scientific rigour, the earth scientists and geologists at the WGA established that the Anthropocene is real, and is now being proposed to be taken up by the International Commission on Stratigraphy and the International Union of Geological Sciences. Humans have had a profound impact on the globe, and it might be time for them to be officially recognised on the Geological Time Scale.

Behind the Anthropocene

Stratigraphers map the Earth’s history by digging up and exploring the composition of the ground, ice and and other sediments. In stratigraphic terms, according to the geology mainstream, Earth is in the Holocene epoch. Identified by a “golden spike”, a stratotype, or something like a boundary object, the Holocene is set to be 11 700 years old. Its primary characteristic is the mild climate which has allowed humanity to thrive, enabling the agrarian revolution, and all subsequent innovations. Now, however, the Holocene epoch might be coming to an end.

In the close to 20 years since the term Anthropocene surfaced, it has already become real in many ways. The computer modelling done in climate science and the large scale geoengineering research being done today would seem like Science Fiction back then. Looking up from the ground, the atmosphere is changing as well. 2016 marked the year when atmospheric CO2 levels read above 400 parts per million (ppm) in the month of September. CO2-levels cycle through the year, and drop during the summer months together with the blossoming of a CO2-eating biosphere. The yearly atmospheric low can usually be found during the month of September, and while 400 ppm has previously been used as a point of no return, it was passed this year. Anthropogenic emissions are expected to cause massive changes to the climate, and acceleration events like melting of arctic methane containers are looming on the horizon.

So why not simply name the coming epoch the Anthropocene? Well, the devil is in the details. While the WGA agreed on the reality of the Anthropocene epoch by an overwhelming 34 – 1 vote, only a somewhat smaller majority wanted to propose the Anthropocene as the official successor of the Holocene, and for its inclusion into the International Chronostratigraphic Chart. An even smaller group, only 10 out of the 35, could agree that the primary signal of the Anthropocene is plutonium fallout, with the other members’ votes spread pretty evenly around alternatives like fuel ash particle, methane concentration or technofossils. No consensus has been formed concerning the timelines and requirements for properly defining the Anthropocene. There is, however, a general consensus around the bigger picture, as described by Clive Hamilton in the scientific journal Nature: “The new geological epoch does not concern soils, the landscape, or the environment, except inasmuch as they are changed as part of a massive shock to the functioning of Earth as a whole.”

The WGA is the result of a processes of collective knowledge productions from very different scientific elds. Making climate change factual is an broad social endeavour, and the Anthropocene debate is creating perspective changes in the art of the possible. Working scientifically on problems like the climate crisis, systemic boundaries, emerging infectious diseases and geoengineering, scientists go from assisting national governments and their respective populations, to addressing planetary questions in holistic systems. Going from nationalism to globalism can seem to have brought sciences to the face of political geology or planetary politics.

Naming the baby

When it was noted in 2014 that only 1 of the then 29 scientists in the Anthropocene Working Group were female, economist Kate Raworth tweeted: “The Anthropocene is bad enough. Spare us a Manthropocene!” While the membership has since been diversified, the core of the critique still stands. A new epoch should not be named after the Anthropos – The Human, unqualified and with a capital H!

This critique is far-reaching and has gotten many names. Gendering the Anthropos opens up questions about male domination of women. As Raworth sharply points out, women have been severely underrepresented in the spaces of knowledge production and power that led to this epoch. Along a similar vein, the name “Eurocene” has been proposed to capture our current predicament’s colonial roots and place a more fitting blame. What we have experienced can be seen as a Eurofication of the world.

Another critic of the “Anthropocene” label, Jason W. Moore, attacks what he sees as a Cartesian science of separation in the frontier. For Moore, our epoch is first and foremost a capitalist ecology. What we see today is the result of centuries of violent real abstractions, in bourgeois dualisms of nature/ society, mind/matter or objective/subjective. The creation of surplus value – capital that grows – is predicated on devaluation of different natures. Devaluation allows for exploiting and underpaying nature’s labor, seen here as human cooperation with other natures in the Oikeios (greek for of the household, but here taken from “Oikeios topos” in biology, the favorable place where a plant is found). Surplus value is produced under historically specific ecological configurations that lets nature work for capital.

Capitalism, having previously expanded on the back of the “four cheaps” – labor-power, food, energy and raw materials – is now facing a time when their abundance is coming to an end. Though successful in revolutionizing the environment many times over, capitalism-as- ecology only work when the boundaries it creatively destroys cheaply supplies labor and capital on the other side. The impact now being recognized in geology as the Anthropocene comes from breaching a boundary with no such prize. And so we can be said to be late in the epoch of capital: The Capitalocene.

Changing history

Without any real consensus on when the Anthropocene started, what it is comprised of, or even what it should be called, scientific clarity comes easily only in science fiction. When author Kim Stanley Robinson wrote the terraforming trilogy of Mars in the 1990s, he articulated and extrapolated the expansionist ideology of the time. In 2015 he returned to the topic of planetary colonization in “Aurora”, but here describes an ideology that has changed with the times. The book tells of a tale of a generational spaceship hurtling through space, in search of virgin lands for humanity to colonize. The hostility of living in space and meeting other planets is beautifully contrasted to our heroine ending the book returning to the Earth. Playing in its waves, baking in its sun, it becomes so obvious that although broken in many ways, no place can provide better operating conditions for humans.Historian of science Donna Haraway agrees with Moore that the term Capitalocene is a better t than Anthropocene for our current epoch. Still, she is of the opinion that most of the proposed alternatives are too narcissistic, because they all suggest naming the epoch after ourselves. This seems to Haraway an unwarranted and self-centered humanist bias, in a time where hundreds of species face extinction every day. If we are to undo some of the wrongs we have done, and abort our initiation of a sixth mass extinction event, human praxis needs changing. If we want a new epoch to be something other than Capitalocene or Anthropocene, we should debate what can replace it. Haraway suggests the Chthulucene.

Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places. Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble.

No novice of the naming game, Haraway is taking the Greek khthôn, meaning what is in, under or beneath the earth, and formulates a view predicated on creating our future now. For her, the primary concern is that which lies beyond the Anthropocene or Capitalocene. Naming our period is about “thinging” things and “worlding” worlds, about making unexpected collaborations and combinations in what remains of the biosphere. Corals and invertebrates help bringing the earthbound into consciousness, and for Haraway we must make kin of all of them.

Naming the epoch after the uncontrollable forces of the deep emphasizes how it is not the planet itself that is being destroyed, but rather the conditions for humanity’s continued existence on it. The Chthulucene is meant to invoke not only the need for stopping our destruction of the planet, but also that we have to learn to live with what we have already done. She contends that we must urgently learn to think, that we must change the story. What Haraway describes as “tentacular thinking” is supposed to make human exceptionalism and bounded individualism unusable in the best sciences. Chthonic politics seeks out ways of making composting sexy, to create new desires more in tune to the situation and to steer history in a new trajectory.

Signal-to-noise ratio

Haraway is co-creating new ways to speak about climate change, in a time where it seems it is urgently needed. While in reality much can already be too late, some authors warn against speaking too loudly of this, in fear of preaching impending doom to an increasingly passive population. The authors discussed above do the opposite: They stare into the abyss. Others see current politics becoming an obstacle to any form of sensible environmental regulation. Do all too human political agendas blind us from seeing the real dangers of our time? Has politics become a distraction from what really matters? Novelist Amitav Ghosh claims this, in his latest book “The Great Derangement”, as he describes drought and environmental degradation leading up to the Arab Spring. Ghosh argues for the ethical responsibility of political writers to articulate the ecological unraveling happening around them, and relate world events to ecology.

The debate is even being reflected by pop culture, where we can find similar tensions. At first listen it sounded like a human-to-human problem, when rapper Mick Jenkins delivers lyrics about U.S. black oppression, citing Eric Garner’s last words; “I can’t breathe”. In the music video to the song called “Drowning”, the Chicago based artist makes the chronic connections between social and ecological problems more obvious, when he is in the river, being drowned. Like the slogan made famous by the police violence protesters, the act of drowning has this broader connotation to it. We can all relate to the common and phenomenological experience of not being able to breathe air, as it show this ultimate devaluation of life. Submerged either by rising oceans, water dam constructions or slave owners, the connection between the dominance of people and environment becomes clear. Like with good art, we get a glimpse of something yet to be, the ecological and sociological problem seeming clear and solvable. Nevertheless, politics under water does not work. The video shows the stumbling of thinking when the brain is deprived of oxygen, the illusion breaks, we are left with raw fear, despair and heavy doses of drug-filled lyrics. System scale existential threats were maybe too great a challenge for mere humans to handle, after all. What better occasion to turn over grey rocks, and see with octopus eyes? The naming debate around the Anthropocene is, if not birthing new worlds, at least generative in that it has inspired rethinking of the past, present and future. After engaging with the authors above, what stands out to me is the planetary perspective change embodied by the debate. As far as I can see, this part of it problematizes and opens up whether science can afford to treat local acts of oppression and ecological self destruction as separate issues. Should the name reflect what Moore would have it, one ecology of growth by exploitation, webbed into a living biosphere, now meeting its limits? Or is it in fact better named in terms of a post-human feminism, by learning to listen to those who today are being silenced, after hot compost tḧat can be dug into, formed new alliances with, and create what today only can be understood as magic?

The debate discusses the social meaning of the earth shaped rock hurtling through space, with its geosphere of distinct history, and a biosphere patterned by cooperative and exploitative processes that continue to shape its economies and environments to this day. It opens up the eld of geology to outsiders, so before the International Commission on Stratigraphy takes up the Anthropocene or shuts it down, you can also be a geologist and influence the decision. You might have many years to do it yet, as the concept is still unstable. But to have any effect, it should happen before we are too far down the irreversible road of those who have been called the “carbon liberation front». So go ahead, you name the baby.

This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of Teknovatøren.


Silje Totland

Silje Totland

A green transition away from fossil-based fuels is a frequently debated topic these days. Could it be that we are thinking about it all wrong, and that the solution has been right under our noses the whole time?

In November 2016, one of the most influential nordic climate gatherings, the ZERO conference, was hosted for the second time in Oslo. Norwegian politicians, industries from all over the world, entrepreneurs, scientists and members of the royal family were among the speakers, sharing experiences, results and goals for the future. The conference theme, “from fossil to a green unique position”, dealt with the Norwegian transition from the golden age of oil and gas, to a desired golden age of clean technology. The conference was introduced by proclaiming that Norway needs new heroes. We are all those heroes.

A problem that divides
This transition is not just up to the politicians and the industry. «We need to call out for a Norwegian dugnad, proclaimed the leader of the Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre. A dugnad is when a group of people work collectively for the greater good, and not individual advantage. Just prior, Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, had asserted that Norway needs a broad set of solutions. Not one, but many, and they should all be green. It seems that the politicians agree, but they need help from us all, as a collective transitional dugnad. We must demand from the politicians that they go forth and set the framework for this transition to be manageable. A key message repeated in various ways throughout the conference was the warning against a dichotomy. This transition is not about ‘fossil fuel vs green energy’. By designing the transition as a dichotomy between fossil and green, we are creating a simplification that leaves out an infinite number of alternative solutions. By simplifying science, we get what is referred to as the dominant model of science. Simplification leads to distortion. How can ordinary people make decisions if they do not know the science, the technology, or the possibilities? At the same time, if we are to call for a dugnad, we need everyone to join. How can we achieve this?

A place for absolution?
We should not abandon fossil fuels to go green.
Realistically, we expect fossil fuels will be with us for another twenty years or more. We actually need oil to go green. At least for a little while. But how on earth can fossils be green? I would like to illustrate with a story. Coffee, like oil, is widely consumed all over the world. But did you know that a freshly brewed cup of coffee contains only 0.2% of farmers´ produce? We have to rethink coffee. To do this, we have to do a lot more with what we have. The remaining produce is suitable for growing mushrooms. Such mushrooms can have many applications. They can be animal fodder, or work as absorbents in textiles. They can even be used to make UVresistant paint, or soap! This opens a new market for coffee farmers. Using the excess produce,
some farmers can now earn six times as much. This represents a new way of thinking, but it’s not ‘newly invented’ innovative thinking. This is everyday thinking of designers. This way of looking at the problem as a solution requires creativity, and is not necessarily based on science

In a peaceful transition we trust
The ZERO conference was loaded with examples of incremental innovations, very much suitable for a dugnad. They already grow mushrooms in Tanzania, and we can also do this in Norway. After all, we drink a lot of coffee and produce a lot of coffee grounds. Our ability to do this, however, depends on an innovative state of mind that sets the framework for this to happen. The Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment, DIFI, talked about their new regulations for green and innovative public procurements. Previously, it was compulsory for public procurement to be 30% green. All procurements from January 1st and onwards, are designed to increase this number. This is done to make it easier for ‘heroes’ to make green decisions and think creatively about the way they do business.

This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of Teknovatøren.

«Shhh! We have a plan”

Haakon NormannHåkon Normann, PhD candidate
Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture

For a while, my eldest daughter’s favourite book was a simple little book that feature four characters attempting to catch a bird. Every time they see the bird they whisper: ”Shhh! We have a plan”. But despite several different plans, they never succeed in catching the bird (birds are after all not so easy to catch). As I have followed the recent debate about a need for transforming the Norwegian oil and gas sector, the same words have every now and then popped up in my head. ”Shhh! We have a plan”. Not so much because I see a plan. Rather, these words appear because I question whether our politicians have a feasible plan for how the Norwegian oil and gas sector can be transformed.

During the 2000s, the Norwegian Word “omstilling” (restructuring or changeover) has become increasingly visible in the Norwegian public debate – especially in the wake of lower oil prices during the last two years. The debate about “omstilling” is intimately related to a broader debate about sustainability transitions and industry transformation. Neither the current or previous government have earned much credibility when it comes to ability or willingness to transform the Norwegian oil and gas sector or contribute to a broader energy transition. In one instance, there will be talk about 1.5 degree targets, Paris and “the greatest challenge of our time” (another expression that has been overused since Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007).

In the next instance, there will be talk about the need to keep the wheels turning in the oil and gas sector. Due to the latter, the government decided in August this year to start the 24th licencing round and once more flagged support for explorationactivity in the Barents Sea. This seemingly double communication can be provocative for some. At the same time, the government’s approach is understandable. The oil industry represents jobs and large state revenues. This puts pressure on any government. From sustainability transitions and innovation studies, we know that transitions are often met with resistance from established industries. This is partly because transitions challenge the
revenue base for established industries, and partly because established firms tend to innovate in areas that they are already familiar with. We can
therefore refer to the Norwegian industrial structure as path-dependent and locked in to a fossil based energy system. A major restructuring (or transition) of the fossil based energy system has two major implications. First, it requires a massive expansion of emission free alternatives. This is already happening, first and foremost driven by reduced costs related to electricity produced from solar and wind. This also provides an opportunity for so called “green growth”, and is something Norwegian industry might benefit from. Second, (and arguably more importantly) an energy transition will require a dismantling and ultimately discontinuation of the use of fossil fuels. This creates a dilemma for states with large fossil fuel reserves and strong ambitions on climate change.

The last few decades have seen the development of great tools within the field of innovation studies for studying technological development. We have accumulated pretty good knowledge about factors that can limit and accelerate the growth of new solutions such as emission free energy technologies. There has been less interest among innovation researchers to study how to unsettle established economic, social and political interests. However, in recent years several avenues have been opened up for analysing this aspect of transitions. I will briefly point to two of these. The first avenue is what is now referred to as «the politics of transitions». Transformation of established industries tends to be highly political. In this area it is therefore of interest to study how political processes influence transitions towards sustainability (see for instance Geels et al. 2016; Raven et al. 2016). Another interesting approach involves the study of how a mix of policies need to contribute towards the growth of new industries and to provide disincentives for investments in established industries (Kivimaa & Kern 2016). Both of these approaches are relevant for studying energy transitions in a Norwegian context.

I am certain that there are many in the leading positions in both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party (and maybe even in the Progress Party) who recognise the need to transform the oil and gas sector both from a business and climate perspective. I trust that many of these wish to introduce policies that contribute towards such a transformation. However, I am not convinced that they have a plan for how this can be achieved whilst at the same time maintain employment and state revenues at a reasonably acceptable level. I therefore think they need some help. Discontinuation through transformation is one area where innovation studies should be able to make a valuable contribution. If the field of innovation studies is to stay relevant in this area, we should try to better our understanding of how a financially sound and politically feasible transformation and discontinuation of established industries can come about.

This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of Teknovatøren.

Makers’Hub: Changing how refugees live, and how architects think

Joar Kvamsås
By Joar Kvamsås

The young interior architects of the design collective Makers’Hub are creating tangible projects to improve the living conditions in Norwegian refugee centres. In the process, they are not only trying to open the eyes of the refugee centre industry to the value of housing quality, but also to change how Norwegian architects look at their own profession.

I sat down with two of Makers’Hub’s founders, Else Abrahamsen and Ida B. Wold in their offices at Bislett. With bright surfaces mixed with wooden textures and clean lines, the architecture office is a stark contrast to the kinds of spaces the two interior architects work with in refugee centres.

The Maker'sHub Team
The Maker’sHub Team: Karam Kifah Thanoon, Jack Hughes, Maria Årthun, Ida Bergli Wold and Else Abrahamsen

«Interior architecture is an industry which traditionally focuses on making sort of posh, aesthetically pleasing rooms,» Else  explains. «We’re taking the work outside of the office. We want to be hands-on, and everything we do should involve the residents». For the last year, the Makers’Hub team has been working at the Torshov refugee centre, where they have completed a number of projects to improve the living conditions of its residents. «The entire asylum seeking process robs people of their identity – they feel like they are losing themselves,» Else says. She speaks passionately and confidently, displaying the demeanour of someone who has had a lot of experience pitching her project mission.

The initiative was inspired by research on Norwegian refugee centres coming out of NTNU since 2012, which reports on widespread poor housing quality. Maker’sHub’s projects use a method of participatory architecture, in which refugee centre residents are involved in redesigning and redecorating their living spaces. This method was pioneered by Susanne Hoffmann, and her Berlin-based practice Die Baupiloten. According to her, users’ experiences are invaluable in the design process.

2_Workshop_IARK21S4A8912«We are trying to make the institution feel more like a home», says Ida. «Though it is a temporary home, it’s about belonging to the place, by tying themselves to it, by making something of their own». Makers’Hub also finds it important that their designs reflect the diverse cultural backgrounds of refugee centre residents. «The people who live at the refugee centres have a different culture from ours; they connect with different things than we do.»

So far, the team has done their work on a voluntary basis, but they are now looking to make the organisation their main source of income. Having started their work with the non-profit organisation Norsk Folkehjelp, they are now in contact with commercial refugee centre operators. «Slowly the refugee centre industry is starting to understand why housing quality is important, and what it can do for the residents,» Else says. But the current institutional structure poses some challenges. «We think the refugee centre model right now is really inefficient. You open and close centres all over the place, and you never go for continuity. Every contract is reopened for negotiation every three years, which makes it really difficult to achieve continuity for anyone, and this is a major reason why they don’t invest in housing quality.»

Else Abrahamsen has spent the last year promoting their ideas to policy makers at debates and conferences. Their projects from Torshov have been invaluable in getting attention to their ideas. «We have these tangible things that we have made. We need stuff to put on display», Else says. «And that’s when people started contacting us, because we are the only ones working in this field right now.»

1S4A9368MakersHub_the-pavillion-55The founders of Makers’Hub also hope that their work can set an example for others in the architecture industry to volunteer their skills and knowledge for not-for-profit projects. «Getting in the door with refugee centres is a difficult process,»  Else says. One of the first things Makers’Hub did at Torshov was to invite interior architects in to map out  the space at the refugee centre. They have also been reaching out to major players in the architecture and interior architecture industry by going to conferences, holding talks, and even setting up a temporary ‘People’s Kitchen’ at the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture (DogA) with volunteers from the Torshov refugee centre.

Through their project at Torshov, Else and her co-workers have learned a lot about the relationships you have to navigate between actors such as the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, the landowners of the buildings and the refugee centre operators.  As they decide where to take the organisation in the future, this will perhaps be the most important knowledge base they can leverage. «We want to be an umbrella organisation that can help people get contacts,» Ida says. «We want to link more actors together and create connections.»

The three young innovators are leading the way for socially conscious design, showing other architects by example what is possible. And through their hands-on approach and tangible results, they may open up the eyes of the larger institutions and commercial actors to the value of refugee centre housing quality, and show how architects can contribute to improving the day-to-day existence of refugees.


This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of Teknovatøren.

You can find out more about Makers’Hub through their website and facebook page.