Research

(for a list of research projects scroll down)

I am a political scientist working in an interdisciplinary Environmental Science Department. I have a  keen interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and big data and their potential for environmental sustainability. At the Open University, I contribute to the newly developed research area ‘Safety in urban environments’ (Veilige Stad). Under this umbrella, I lead an interdisciplinary consortium on ‘Making the smart city safe’.  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, my interdisciplinary research project asks: How can we make the smart city safe for citizens? My collaborators are computer programmers and lawyers. In my 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 workshop called ‘Making the smart city safe for citizens’ from 28-29th November 2018 in Heerlen as part of our project. The call for papers is currently open until 19th August 2018.

A second line of research I am involved in focuses on 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 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 discourses of 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 use of the Future Search Conference as a tool for stakeholder dialogue in Local Agenda 21 processes, also using Habermas ‘ideal speech situation’. More recently, I investigate all forms of participation as  technologies of government 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.

 

RESEARCH LEADERSHIP AND INVOLVEMENT IN MAJOR PROJECTS:

2018- Open University of the Netherlands – Research Area ‘Safety in urban environments’, project title: “Making the smart city safe for citizens

  • collaborators: dr. Stefano Brumori, Prof. Anka Ernes, Prof. Jac Rinkes
  • host of an interdisciplinary conference ‘Makinge the smart city safe for citizens’ from 28-29th November 2018 in Heerlen

2014-2018 : COST Action Innovations in Climate Governance (European Cooperation in Science & Technology)   

  • Co-author of the successful grant application to host the Massive Open Online Course “Governing climate change: Polycentricity in Action?” (jointly with Dave Huitema)
  • Lead organizer of the INOGOV international spring school on “Governing climate change: Polycentricity in Action?” for 25 European PhD students in Heerlen in March 2017

 

2011-2015: COST Action Climate Change and Migration (European Cooperation in Science & Technology)

  • Lead organiser of an official side event on climate change and migration for the Paris climate summit (COP-21 to the UNFCCC) on 1st December 2015 with six partners

 

2012-2015 and 2015-2017 German BMBF-funded project “MINT.online”, a research consortium of four German universities, one applied university, the Fraunhofer Society and Next Energy to create new and upgrade existing distance learning M.Sc. programmes in the field of sustainability, energy, environment 

  • Interims PI for Distance Teaching University in Hagen from 2013-2015, one PhD student
  • Co-author and PI  for the Distance Teaching University in Hagen in the write-up of the successful grant application for 2015-2017
  • Project leader at Lund University for the Massive Open Online Course “Climate Change: A question of justice?” produced by Hagen University in collaboration with Lund

 

2002-2007 German BMBF-SÖF-funded Junior research group of four scientists ‚Changing social relations of nature? Conflicts in the agricultural transition to organic farming in Germany‘ under the leadership of Dr. Peter H. Feindt at the University of Hamburg 

  • Co-author of the successful grant application (did not work in the project myself)