I am a political scientist working at the Environmental Science Department of the Open University of the Netherlands. I have a keen interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and big data and their potential for the sustainability transition. I lead an interdisciplinary consortium on ‘Making the smart city safe’. With this project, I contribute to the newly developed research area ‘Safety in urban environments’ (Veilige Stad) at the Open University of the Netherlands.
In this project, we investigate the use of big data and artificial intelligence in the fields of energy and mobility in the smart city. There are rising concerns that cities sell out their infrastructure and their citizens’ data to big corporations in order to join the club of ‘smart cities’. Moreover, citizens’ data is not always adequately protected. Security concerns include privacy, data security, liability and resilience. Before this background, our interdisciplinary research project asks: How can we make the smart city safe for citizens? My collaborators are computer programmers and lawyers. In the political science part of the project, I investigate the social construction of security in the smart city from a Foucaultian governmentality perspective. I also draw on neo-Gramscian approaches and their critiques of data extractivism and digital capitalism. We are hosting a big interdisciplinary conference called ‘Making the smart city safe for citizens’ on 28-29th November 2018 in Heerlen as part of this project.
A second line of research I am involved in focuses on political science theories of lock-in. I have become more and more interested to explore why change and transitions are so slow and which mechanisms and power relations are holding us back. In the field of climate adaptation, my colleagues and I have explored various theoretical frameworks for the study of lock-ins in this field (conference paper). For the case of the German energy transition (from fossil fuels to renewables) I have conducted a literature review that investigates the role of discursive lock-ins and its potential to explain the important role of lignite/coal in the German energy mix.
My key research interest has always been on the international politics of climate change. I made my first presentation on climate change while still in school in 1988. I attended the first Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Berlin in 1995 as youth observer. I also have a long history of working with Michel Foucault’s governmentality concept. I was amongst the first to apply it to the international politics of climate change (Oels 2005). I have investigated the construction of climate change as a security issue and its policy implications (in my habilitation thesis). My empirical work in recent years has focused on the figure of the “climate refugee” and I have published a critique of the international discourses on climate change and migration (Methmann/Oels 2015).
I have a long-standing research interest in citizen/stakeholder participation, power and theories of deliberative democracy. For my PhD, I studied the Future Search Conference as a tool for stakeholder dialogue in Local Agenda 21 processes, also using Habermas ‘ideal speech situation’. More recently, I have written about the limits of stakeholder dialogue and citizen participation as tools for learning and innovation in climate change adaptation. I investigate participation as technology of governing at a distance following Foucault. I have become convinced that performativity and disruption can often be more effective means of political participation than stakeholder dialogues.
You can find a list of my current research projects under RESEARCH.