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Schrickel Isabell | Fellow Postdoctoral
2019-04-23 - 2019-05-10 | Research area: Sustainability Research
IIASA and the Making of Sustainability Science

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) has been established in 1973 as an East-West Think Tank in the baroque castle of Laxenburg / Vienna in order to foster scientific collaboration on "common problems of advanced societies" such as pollution control, urban growth, public health, energy supply and environmental problems. The initiative dates back to the mid 1960s, when President Johnson launched the policies of "bridge-building" towards the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, designed to resolve international tensions, to deal with emerging complexities in the international system, and to develop transnational relations throughout the industrialized world. It was an attempt to create an interdisciplinary policy science that would allow to address the universal problems, that all advanced societies had in common and the emerging global issues of the 1970s – such as the energy crisis, climate change, world population and sustainable development. The castle became an environment of multilateral rapprochement, new formats of scientific collaboration and policy advice, of sounding common interests and problems, of data exchange and computer connections through the Iron Curtain. Scientists, engineers, systems analysts and policy experts from initially twelve nations worked together in international and interdisciplinary teams.

My project seeks to embed the history of IIASA within the broader intellectual, institutional and scientific developments of the years around 1970 and to provide a historiographical context for the establishment of the field of sustainability science at IIASA. The institute is the result precisely of the growing sense of urgency to engage with the problems that modern industrialized societies already faced in a globalizing environment. Knowledge about the future became more widely available and an emerging planetary consciousness and the availability of the means to cooperate globally intensified the sense of obligation to act. In light of the perceived challenges of peacekeeping at the time, the global population boom, sustenance, energy demand, overexploitation, automation or the biological revolution numerous authors began to theorize the temporality of historical dynamics, the governability of societal developments and the question of how to bring about desired change. In this context new forms of expertise have been developed – and IIASA was an important node in this emerging epistemic community. In the project I provide examples of how some of these challenges have been discussed at IIASA in different research groups. I conextualize the development of new conceptual frameworks, modeling techniques and policy approaches still relevant today, in particular global modeling, integrated assessment, resilience thinking, and risk assessment. The project is situated at the intersections of history of science and STS, contemporary history and environmental humanities.