Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities
New research

What kind of government do we want?

On 24 May, SVT affiliate Cristina García Casañas successfully defended her PhD thesis "Imaginaries of innovation and science: critical analysis and sustainability concerns.”

A woman with brown, shoulder-length hair in a black top and jeans holding a PhD dissertation
Cristina García Casañas with a copy of her PhD dissertation.
Kamilla Stølen

Main content

Casañas, who is based in Tenerife, submitted her dissertation at SVT’s "sister institute" Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (Institute of Environmental Science and Technology) at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) in February 2022.

An excellent dissertation

The new doctor has a background in economics, and she also studied sustainability issues in her two masters’ theses. It was during her work on her first master’s in 2008 that she first became acquainted with the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT) at UiB, and later on she has been a guest researcher at the centre on several occasions. Her supervisors during her work on the thesis were Louis Lemkow Zetterling at UAB and SVT Professor Roger Strand.

Casañas’ defense took place online, and her dissertation was qualified as "excellent" by the leader of the committee, Ângela Guimarães Pereira (Joint Research Centre, European Commission), when she presented the committee’s verdict. In addition to Guimarães Pereira, Erik Reinert (Professor at Tallinn University of Technology and guest researcher at SVT) and Beatriz Rodríguez Labajos (Professor at Pompeu Fabra University) acted as Casañas’ opponents during the defense.

The continuing legitimacy crisis of our institutions

The dissertation performs a critical analysis of the role of innovation in European public policies and furthermore explores possible interactions between the policies and their critique.

"In light of these interactions, I ask: What kind of government do we want, and what kind of theory of change would we want?" says Casañas.

These are questions for the public debate as well as for policy. In her dissertation, Casañas also investigates narratives that (re)invoke idealized visions of science in environmental issues in the public sphere. The processes, investigated in both the institutional and the public spheres, are articulated in a situation of the widespread crisis of legitimacy of our scientific and governance institutions.

"In the thesis, I study how this continuing crisis of legitimacy is being dealt with, both in policies and in public sphere. For instance, I look at how environmental issues are being governed."

Innovation as political response to crisis

Casañas’ original motivation for writing the dissertation was the financial crisis in 2007-2008; in particular the deeper crisis in her home country Spain that brought with it wide-spread unemployment that also affected her personally.

"The political response to the economic crisis at the institutional level was based on innovation, and this was also the case with political problems in general, like the climate crisis."

Intellectual inspiration and a welcoming atmosphere at the SVT

The journey towards the completion of her dissertation has been long, and according to Casañas, it became not just an intellectual journey, but also a journey of belief in herself and of learning patience and perseverance. The SVT has been important to her in both respects:

"From the home institute of my supervisor Roger Strand, the SVT, I received both intellectual inspiration and a hospitable and welcoming atmosphere among the staff. The thesis changed with time due to perspectives I encountered at the SVT, like science and technology studies (STS), post-normal science and philosophy of science, and I was also very inspired by the seminars I attended at the centre. The SVT is a very vibrant community!"

Unusually bold and ambitious PhD project

Casañas describes the style of her dissertation as "very didactic", and she tries to go deep in her critique.

"We learn through critical perspectives, that is, in addition to applying them, we also self-reflect on them. In this way, we might become more aware of our old Western epistemological assumptions."

Roger Strand praises Casañas’ dissertation as an unusually bold and ambitious PhD project:

"While the preferred solution for Cristina was to submit her thesis at the institute of our good friends and colleagues at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, her work is what we could call 'typical SVT': It is highly interdisciplinary and combines critique with a profound interest in the normative questions of how to improve public reason and public policies."