Sustainable citizenship championed

Waikato University researchers are passionate about a concept of citizenship which enables non-experts to have their say on some of the biggest issues facing humankind.

Associate Professor Priya Kurian from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Associate Professor Debashish Munshi from Waikato Management School have been awarded a prestigious Marsden Grant to research the concept of sustainable citizenship.

Their research is focused on how citizens can have meaningful input into policy decisions, particularly around new and emerging technologies like nanotechnology and synthetic biology.

"These technologies have incredible potential because of the radical change they can bring about and billions of dollars are being spent on them worldwide," Dr Kurian says.

"But really, while experts are steeped in the issue, the public is not very engaged and there is no consensus on how we should be approaching these technologies in a policy sense."

Dr Kurian said such technologies could provoke strong views. Some champion them as a "path to utopia" while others claim their use could lead to a dismal and toxic future. Very often, the public prefer to leave discussion and debate about such technologies ‘to the experts’, she says.

"Apart from environmental activists, there has been very little debate, certainly in New Zealand."

"But we argue that citizenship must be a holistic concept, taking environmental, cultural and political issues into account. These issues and their policy implications shouldn’t just remain in the hands of ‘experts’; the public has an important voice that should be listened to."

The Waikato University researchers have now developed and articulated the theoretical concept of sustainable citizenship. That has provided a framework for the empirical research now underway in an international collaboration; research which may one day make it easier for all of us to have our say.

Supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund.

Sustainable Citizenship Project