Rick Bosman - Transition Studies
He was originally trained to build wind-turbine and solar parks. During his internship, however, Rick Bosman discovered that he found it much more interesting to see how different parties shape the transition from a fossil-based to a sustainable energy system. The transition theory applied by the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT) offered him the means to pursue this. He became a consultant at the institute, advising the Finnish government, for example, and is now combining this with PhD research into destabilisation.
“It’s surprising to see that, alongside niche players, the established parties are now also increasingly seeing a need for transition,” Rick says. “I am researching how actors are repositioning themselves in this transition. What happens with the regime when new perspectives and relationships arise? Where do the cracks in the regime occur? How do fossil fuels increasingly come under pressure? And also: is it possible to think up interventions to, as it were, break open the regime in order to further accelerate the transition process?”
Port of Rotterdam in the Arena
“The Rotterdam Port Authority asked us to think with them about what the Port could look like in the future if it becomes less fossil-based,” Rick says. “Helping a party that is really at the heart of the fossil-fuel system, but that also recognises the need for change, to develop new perspectives – is a very exciting process.”
Alongside the Port Authority, various other parties that can shed new light on the situation are being invited to participate on the basis of the ‘Transition Arena approach’. “Some are working really hard towards a bio-based economy, while others are still in the middle of the fossil system. Such clashes of perspectives can be very constructive if the process is well facilitated. Together, we look at the value in these various positions and develop pathways along which the transition can take shape.”
Academic, advisor and/or activist?
Rick’s involvement in climate issues doesn’t stop with his research and consultancy work. For example, he also works with the ABP Fossielvrij divestment movement. “I like to share my knowledge with parties working on the transition – not just those parties who can pay for it.” This involvement forms a challenge in his doctoral thesis, his discussions with mentors and in his own thought, Rick explains. “I am regularly asked whether I am an academic, an advisor or an activist. I don’t think any of them excludes the others.”
“I am researching particular processes because these interest me owing to my passion to do something about climate change. The better you know the underlying processes, the better you can do something about them. We work a lot on the basis of the action research paradigm, to which it is central that the best way to find out how something works is to try to change it – then it becomes clear where the resistance is. So interaction with practice is extremely important. We don’t only analyse, we also intervene, constantly testing and strengthening our hypotheses on how social change works.”
This research method is also a challenge when it comes to writing his thesis, Rick explains. “In an arena, we co-create knowledge with participants. This provides new perspectives on the basis of which everyone can act. We feed the discussion with our transition perspective, but the discussions also feed our thinking. An extremely valuable way of accumulating knowledge, although it is noticeable that the traditional academic community is still sceptical.”
“The idea that academics belong in an ivory tower, their noses buried in books and from there explain how the world works, is still deeply rooted in some places. In the Graduate School, which is familiar with inter- and transdisciplinary approaches, there are more opportunities for new and different ways of working.”
Descending from the ivory tower
DRIFT is something of an exception within the academic world anyway, Rick notes. “We start out from persistent societal problems which we identify working with people from the sectors concerned. We believe that when things are going wrong in society, also academics have a responsibility to feed the public debate with their well-founded insights. Perhaps it’s our duty as action researchers to challenge the more traditional academic fields on this responsibility.”
In fact, parties are being challenged at many different levels. “As well as being fun, above all we believe this is essential,” Rick stresses. “Not because our research methods are better, but we believe there is space, as well as a necessity, for more transformational action-based research.”
Swimming against the stream on a number of fronts is demanding, Rick has noticed. “Fortunately, within DRIFT we have a really good group of researchers with whom we discuss these kinds of struggles. A very interdisciplinary group within which everyone has his or her own methodological approach, as well as opinions on the academic world and social change. This also makes for some interesting discussions.” He laughs: “So really, it’s a kind of a transition arena here, too.”