An espresso with...Prof. Dr. Anna-Katarina Hornidge
From 2015 to 2020 Prof Dr Anna-Katharina Hornidge held a cooperation professorship at the University of Bremen and the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) with a focus on development and knowledge sociology. She has been Director of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) in Bonn and a professor at the University of Bonn since 2020.
Why did you come to the University of Bremen?
I came to Bremen for a professorship at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) and the Institute for Sociology at the University of Bremen. At ZMT, I headed the Development and Knowledge Sociology working group. After a year I took over as head of the social science department at ZMT and, through exchange with colleagues at ZMT and at the University of Bremen, we were able to build up the field of marine social and cultural sciences. This is an area that has been booming for several years.
The ocean is becoming more and more important, but also more strongly contested. Human interest is turning increasingly towards the ocean's mineral and biological resources. At the same time, it suffers from pollution and warming. The ocean is also of central importance as a climate regulator. All of this leads to invigorated and more robust marine social and cultural sciences, including economic expertise on the ocean. The University of Bremen has promoted this from the very beginning.
For older students, it mightseem a little unusual that you are a sociologist working in a field originally filled by natural scientists. What was your research topic?
About my background: I came from a very interdisciplinary institute, the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn, which focuses on the agricultural sector in developing countries. So I had already cooperated closely with natural scientists, hydrologists and agricultural experts in the past. In this environment, I felt very comfortable formulating research questions not only from research desiderata, but also based on real-life challenges, in the development context of tropical countries. For example, how to deal with sea-level rise or with weak financial instruments and governance systems. In other words, putting application-oriented research into action in order to contribute to social change. In this respect, it was a wonderful opportunity to work together with marine scientists, fisheries biologists and geologists in Bremen. Always with the ambition of designing research in such an interdisciplinary way that governance systems (including non-governmental ones) are considered and decision-making processes are informed. This also includes posing cultural studies questions about the sea, like how do we shape governance and power structures or communication spaces so as not to repeat colonial practices.
What were formative experiences for you at the University of Bremen?
I got to know the University of Bremen as a reform university, where there was the possibility – in the context of the 1970s – to be able to shape a lot of things. That starts with the architecture and extends into many internal discussions and debates, the focus on democratic processes, an interest in critical thought that is not exclusively mainstream. At the same time, the university has also gone through the liberalisation of the sciences and in the appointment process, how savvy potential candidates are about external funding is not insignificant. A great dynamic has emerged from all this, which I have found very refreshing.
We usually ask alumni what their relationship with professors was like. What was your relationship with the students like?
I found the students to be very interested, internationally networked, happy to think out of the box. However, as a cooperating professor, I didn't do much teaching. But I would like to say that I consider this field of marine cultural and social sciences to be very innovative and future-oriented. There is hardly any other location in Germany that is so well positioned for it and so well networked at the European level. I particularly appreciate the work of the artec Sustainability Research Centre, but also the work of the social sciences, cultural studies and ethnology departments. And I hope that the university will not lose sight of the important interfaces between these fields.
You have been Director of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) in Bonn for a good two years, combined with a professorship at the University of Bonn. Are you more involved in research or policy advice there?
The IDOS is both a non-university research institute and a think tank. We emphasise this parallelism because both roles require different forms of knowledge production and networking. We have long-running research projects that are funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and also by traditional donors to the sciences such as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the German Research Foundation and the Volkswagen Foundation. At the same time, we aspire to bring the projects into dialogue with each other at a somewhat higher level of abstraction, with a focus on current debates first and foremost in development policy, but also in foreign policy as well as climate and environmental policy. There we very actively advise the German government, at the EU level and also in the UN context. We try to cultivate “epistemic friendships”. This is, by the way, a term that the Bremen anthropology professor Michi Knecht also likes to use, and it characterises the how of networking at the interface between science, politics and decision-makers in the NGO context. This goes beyond targeted advice for a process or policy instrument – although we do that too. But in the long run, continuous exchange is more influential and important, offering to be an intellectual "sparring partner" to work through ideas, for example in preparation for major thematic debates.
What is your perception of the University of Bremen from your new position, especially in the context of climate research?
As a centre of marine science, the University of Bremen (along with the non-university research landscape in Bremen and Bremerhaven) is not the only centre in Germany, but it is a very strong one. This network is strategically anchored in Bremen, and also runs through the German Marine Research Alliance in the northern German states, to position itself effectively in its dealings with the federal government. My advice would be to bear in mind that the ocean is increasingly becoming a kind of geopolitical battleground, so scientific advice in political negotiations at all levels also requires expertise in context-specific financial and economic instruments, as well as a deep understanding of social self-organisation in our use of the sea. Hence my strong plea for the further expansion of marine social, cultural and economic sciences. This would enable Bremen to position itself nationally and internationally even more intelligently than it already does as a climate and marine science centre and repository of knowledge.