The PhD thesis entitled Sustainable development in science policy-making. A discourse analysis of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s policies for international cooperation in sustainability research deals with German science policy for cooperation with developing countries and emerging economies in the field of sustainability research. Research is based on empirical data, including qualitative interviews and participant observation among policy makers, experts and cooperative projects, as well as the analysis of project and policy documents.
To examine science policy from strategies through to implementation, the thesis focuses on two exemplary funding initiatives for cooperation with developing countries and emerging economies in sustainability research: The Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) funding initiative and the Megacities funding initiative, both issued by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the frame of the ‘Research for Sustainability Programme’ in the year 2004. Based on a Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD), the thesis analyses the actors involved in perpetuating and renewing the policy discourse; the processes of discourse production in the policy setting; the contents of the policy discourse, and the effects of policy on implemented projects. Power constellations, emerging spaces of agency as well as structural constraints in policy making and implementation are explained as well as the dominant directions of science policy.
Research shows that in contrast to the discourse on German economic prosperity, central to German science policy, the concept of sustainable development is not engraved in the BMBF policies deeply. In funding initiatives and research programmes that do use sustainability as a guiding frame, sustainability is often depoliticised and redefined as a technical problem, tackled best through economy-driven solutions. On the normative backdrop of global sustainable development, the thesis argues that the BMBF’s reinterpretation of research for sustainable development has negative consequences both in view of Germany as well as in view of its partner countries. On the one hand, aspects of global justice or social equality as integral parts of sustainable development are not addressed sufficiently. On the other hand, the narrow focus on technologies narrows the German science system’s ability to cope with global challenges adequately.