Everything is political. This mantra of the social sciences is used so often among us students of international development studies that it has become somewhat of a meme. When a particularly desensitised economist claims their field is actually a natural science, the other social scientists in the Leeuwenborch look at each other in surprise, burst into laughter, and pass the joint.
No, economics is not a natural science. When Friedman, the austerity-happy neo-liberal economist, urged the Chilean dictator Pinochet to privatise Chile from the water to the healthcare system, he equated himself to a doctor healing the sick Chilean economy; an apolitical expert, a scientist.
When you claim that algae and corrals can settle really well on oil platforms, you are making a very political statement
Now, the beehive that I would like to poke is exactly this one. The apolitical scientist. The expert. Biology, unlike economics, is a natural science. But even then it remains political. When you claim that algae and corrals can settle really well on oil platforms, you are making a very political statement. Whether they do or don’t is not the main problem, but the fact that one would even conduct research on such a topic without wondering ‘Hmm, what could the political implications of this research be? How could this be used for green-washing? Who might fund such research? And, is this ethical?’ flabbergast me.
As long as I can disagree with something, it is political. I disagree, for example, with Unilever having settled on campus, I disagree with the words ‘climate-proof’, I disagree that the Varroa mite is the main reason bees are going extinct, I disagree that any scientist or their research should be funded by a private company, I disagree with the fetishisation of economic growth, I disagree with upscaling agriculture, I disagree with the fact that so much research is not being done at WUR because the private sector would never fund it.
As long as I can disagree with something, it is political
Now, you might reply by saying ‘ah, but you are an idealist, a hippie and a dreamer; you are not being realistic’. I would reply by saying that sticking to what is now realistic, is driving species into extinction, people into poverty, and the earth into a dust-bowl, and that therefore I don’t agree with your conception of what is and isn’t realistic. And that that too, therefore, remains a political question. But feel free to disagree.
Luuk Slegers is masterstudent Internationale Ontwikkeling, richting Sociologie, en woont in Wageningen op Droevendaal met zijn vijf huisgenoten. Hij gaat graag ’s morgens een stuk wandelen in het Bennekomse bos.