Interim report of the CSS Working Group "Academic Travel"
1 February 2021, by CSS
Photo: Ismail Mohamed Sovile on unsplash
In January 2020, the Center for Sustainable Society Research (CSS) approved the establishment of the Working Group "Academic Travel" (AT). The Working Group AT explores the role, relevance and ongoing changes of international academic travel in the field of climate and sustainability sciences. A special focus now is on the Covid-19 induced disruption of academic travel.
What has been achieved so far? What turned out to be particularly exciting findings?
The major outcome of the Working Group’s activities in 2020 is a literature review (Braun & Rödder, under review). The review takes stock on existing research on academic travel, and especially academic air travel (AAT), which emphasises the short-term aspect of the travel while including the dominant mode of transportation. Five areas of interest have been identified: First, the relevance of academic travel in the development of the research university and the international connectivity of modern science. Second, functions of meetingness and physical co-presence in the context of academic communication, scientific exchange and networking appear as the main drivers of AAT, yet characteristics of the academic career system and labour market as well as tourism aspects play roles, too. Third, discourses around AAT focus on the perceived obligation to fly (‘fly or die’), its politicisation with regard to the inequality of access, and justifications for upholding current (pre Covid-19) rates of AAT. Fourth, AAT is increasingly critically discussed in the context of climate change (climatisation, Aykut 2020). Fifth, alternatives to AAT are discussed, ranging from the use of virtual meetings and the re-organisation of academic conferences to more fundamental changes in research practices. The review was initiated before the Covid-19 pandemic brought AAT to an abrupt hold, a situation that now makes researching this social practice particularly timely.
What are the next steps for the Working Group?
As our previous work has shown that AAT is an emerging and promising area for future research, the Working Group currently writes a grant proposal to be submitted to the DFG in mid-March 2021. The proposal focusses on the future of academic travel in the light of Covid-19, which came on top of ongoing processes of digital transformation of the academy as well as an increasing moralisation and politicisation of (academic) flying in the context of climate change. Furthermore, a proposal for an ad hoc group on Covid-19 induced mobility disruptions at the joint DGS/ÖGS congress in August 2021 has been submitted. In addition, the young researchers’ group within the Working Group AT will start their activities to identify pathways forward for action to reduce academic air travel.
Aykut, Stefan C. 2020. Climatiser Le Monde. Paris: Éditions Quæ.
Braun, M., & Rödder, S. (2021). Academic (Air) Travel: A Literature Review. Hamburg: CSS Working Paper Series No. 3. [Manuscript under review]