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Published: 2020-11-12

Various perspectives on sustainability issues are necessary

PROFILE This according to Erland Mårald, Professor of history of science and ideas at the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. He is member of the Steering Committee of UTRI – the Umeå Transformation Research Initiative – and we are curious as to why he chose to commit.

Text: Kristina Lindblom
Image: Mattias Pettersson

What is your background? 

– I’m a result of Umeå University to my fingertips. As a student in cultural studies, as a doctoral student in history of science and ideas, as a researcher in environmental history, and as a cross-scientist in a multitude of research programmes. Even if my geographical position has changed much, I’ve gradually broadened my perspective from my subject of interest and from the university on towards building research in collaboration with a wealth of players in society.

Can you tell us about your research and how it connects to UTRI? 

– My research revolves around the environment, sustainability and natural resources from a historical and cultural perspective. For instance, cultural perspectives on knowledge and how researchers act in society with an aim to accomplish change, but also everyday people’s attitudes towards climate and sustainability issues.

Although the idea of sustainable development had been around for three centuries, it’s doubtful that it had thus far managed to stop the negative trend

What is sustainable transition according to you and what challenges can you see in getting there? 

– The modern idea of sustainability and sustainable development is said to have taken shape in the early 18th century. Through the 1987 report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, sustainability became a dominating focus in the United Nations and the global discourse. Although the idea of sustainable development had been around for three centuries, it’s doubtful that it had thus far managed to stop the negative trend – in any case, all graphs show a remarkable and steady climb. There are also historic examples where attempts to initiate increased sustainability using new technology or social policies over time have caused new sustainability issues.” 
“Even if it’s more urgent than ever to transition to a more sustainable society, it’s also important to discuss if the contemporary idea of sustainability really is the answer to this grave situation.

How come you chose to get involved in UTRI? 

– I believe sustainability issues need to be highlighted from many
perspectives – multidisciplinarily and interdisciplinarily – and in dialogue with society. And UTRI is an excellent network to accomplish just that.

What do you think UTRI can contribute with in your research? 

– My research is always developed in interplay with others, both with those I tend to understand, but primarily with those who have other perspectives and who build resistance.

Finally, why do you think people should take part in the kick-off? 

– This is the start of something new – and when something is new, it tends to still be flexible and changeable. So, this is when the dynamics and the potential are at its peak.


Umeå Transformation Research Initiative (UTRI)

Umeå University is investing in sustainability research. The new Umeå Transformation Research Initiative (UTRI) supports collaborations promoting sustainable transition at Umeå University, but also welcomes collaborations with other universities and stakeholders in the field.

UTRI held a kick-off on Monday 30 November and Tuesday 1 December 2020 in the form of an online webinar. Keynote speeches from honorary doctors at Umeå University was: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Nancy Langton, Professor at Michigan Technological University, the US, John Anderson, Professor at Loughborough University, the UK, and Michael Hall, Professor at the University of Canterbury, New Zeeland.

The moderator was Ola Nordebo.

Read more on the UTRI website.

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