“Research is not neutral – we have to take a stand”

NAI-researcher Henning Melber elected new president at the EADI development research conference in Bergen, Norway.

Officially, Henning Melber came to Bergen for two reasons. One was to convene a panel on inequalities in Southern Africa. The other to take on the role as new president of EADI, the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes. He had to do a lot of hand-shaking, speech-making and smiling to cameras over the four conference days. But his biggest hallelujah moment came when he was out of reach from the spotlights, sitting quietly in a dark auditorium, listening to the keynote of Uma Kothari, Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Manchester.

“She spoke captivatingly of her parents who migrated from India to England and in her personal stories were links to what later became her professional story. Her straight-from-the-heart-speech brought me back to my student days when ‘the personal is political’ was the slogan on everybody’s lips. As researchers we need to remind ourselves that we cannot separate our scholarly approach from our private," says Henning Melber, who is, among a lot of other titles and affiliations, senior research associate at the Nordic Africa Institute.

The realization that research is not ‘neutral’ will also color his new role as president of EADI.
“We need to be academically sound and rigorous. But we should not be neutral. As an agency, we should advocate specific values and take sides. Empathy, passion and compassion matter. – As scholars, we are also human beings,” he said in his acceptance speech after having been unanimously elected as president.

Instead of human dignity, I would like to talk about dignity. Simply dignity.

When it comes to development issues, Henning Melber has a vision to mix humanity with a sense of human humility.

“In development research, training and practice, we often talk of human dignity as a guiding star. I would like to lift the perspective a notch and talk about dignity instead. Simply dignity. Because we have to acknowledge and emphasize the importance of a balanced view on what it means to be human in the complex interplay of creating a sustainable development.”

About EADI

  • EADI has 141 institutional members in 26 countries.
  • EADI was founded in 1975 and aims to promote quality in research and education, scientific cooperation and the dissemination of development research to the public.
  • EADI’s secretariat is located in Bonn and a substantial part of its funding, apart from the membership fees, comes from Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • EADI aims to further contacts between researchers, policy-makers, development agencies and donor organisations, non-governmental as well as governmental.
  • EADI publishes the European Journal of Development Research (EJDR).
  • Every three years, EADI holds a general conference – this year in Bergen (20-23 August 2017), with 447 participants from 77 countries. - The next time (2020) it will be in… to be decided – the competition is on!

About Henning Melber

  • Researcher in Political Sciences and Sociology with a special focus on the transition of liberation movements into government parties in Southern Africa.
  • Born 1950 in Stuttgart, he grew up partly in Germany, partly in Namibia and joined Namibia's liberation movement SWAPO in 1974. 
  • 1982-1992: Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Kassel. 
  • 1992-2000: Director of the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU) in Windhoek. 
  • 2000-2006: Research Director at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) in Uppsala.
  • 2006-2012: Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala.
  • 2012 until today: Senior researcher and senior research associate at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) in Uppsala.
  • Extraordinary Professor at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria and Professor Extraordinary at the Centre for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein as well as Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Commonwealth Studies/School for Advanced Study at the University of London.
  • Elected president of EADI on 22 August 2017 for a mandate of three years.

Text and photo: Henrik Alfredsson, henrik.alfredsson@nai.uu.se

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