[urban interfaces] research group at Utrecht University


The Lives of Deltas: A Research Exchange on Sustainability and the Imaginary (The University of Hong Kong– Utrecht University)

Bill McKibben wrote, ‘We live in a post-natural world.’ But did ‘Nature’ in this sense ever exist? Or was it rather the deification of the human that gave it an illusory apartness from ourselves? Now that non-human agencies have dispelled that illusion, we are confronted suddenly with a new task: that of finding other ways in which to imagine the unthinkable beings and events of this era.

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable

Serving a small group of carefully selected Master students from Utrecht University and the University of Hong Kong, with an interest in the arts, sciences, humanities and in the Earth, this transdisciplinary Honours programme aims to do research on the Lives of Deltas. It combines insights from contemporary academia with state-of-the-art technological and artistic research. Together with prominent scientists, scholars and artists, the students jointly explore and experiment the Lives of Deltas ecologically, technologically and creatively through site visits (in the Netherlands and Hong Kong), workshops, and close reading sessions, at two of the top research institutes in the world.

Engage in research and creative thinking right where the 21st-century matters

Deltas, the thresholds where water and land meet, have always been the place where human and non-human life flourished. Today, water and land have transformed into harbour and city, and once again, both are at the forefront of the changing times. At the delta, the power of industrialization, digitalization and urbanization, food scarcity and issues of food safety, sea level rise, extreme heat, heavy storms and other consequences of global warming, can be felt like nowhere else. At the delta, the most complex, or ‘wicked’ problems arise, and creative, ‘out of the box’ solutions, have to be found.

In our times, places like the Netherlands/the Rhine Delta, and Hong Kong/the Pearl River Delta, reveal the crises of the contemporary in very different ways. Located at the opposite sides of the Eurasian continent, formed by very different (geological, meteorological, humanistic) powers, their realities show many differences, but also unexpected similarities. Doing scientific and artistic research at both locations, we make ourselves familiar with the complexities of these 21st-century crises, how they are reflected in social, political and environmental uncertainties, and how they lead to civic action. We will negotiate on what challenges the current state of academic knowledge (what we consider the thinkable and the unthinkable, as Ghosh calls it), and call upon all of our creative and speculative capacities to imagine society differently, to question its Modernist or Capitalist systems of production and consumption. It is important to stress that all of this will be done by placing centre not the human being, but the entire Delta with its multiple networks: its human and non-human inhabitants, the elements, and all of the powers engaged in its complexity. The current technological, speculative, and artistic experiments may inspire new perspectives on these crises, both in Hong Kong and in the Netherlands. Our transdisciplinary approach, therefore, teams up with a series of technological and artistic initiatives in both sites, it engages with local communities and stakeholders, and searches for ways to involve them actively in the research that we undertake. The Lives of Deltas is a unique transdisciplinary, transnational and inclusive program, firmly rooted in the urgent matters of today.

Read the full program here: Call Lives of Deltas 2022 HKU UU