Josephine van Zeben has been appointed chair of the Law Group of Wageningen University. She studies how legal systems deal with environmental and climate policies. She hopes to find many opportunities for interdisciplinary research and collaboration in Wageningen. ‘Something which is crucial for finding solutions to complex governance problems’.
Josephine van Zeben, the new chair of the Law Group, is fascinated by the changing role of borders and boundaries. Borders used to be the result of historical developments, wars and geography, but more and more they are created by legal systems, says Van Zeben. Her research focusses on legal collaboration and competition across borders.
Since greenhouse gasses and plastic waste don’t recognize national borders, environmental and climate policies are a central feature of her research on national and international legal systems. The emission of greenhouse gasses in the European Union will have serious impacts on ecosystems around the world, says Van Zeben, and most of these impacts will take place in 50 or 100 years. This complexity in time and space makes it very difficult to agree on environmental laws, both nationally and across borders. ‘I hope my work can help the law to adapt and change, in order to solve some of the most important issues of our time.’
35-year old Van Zeben already has an impressive cv. After she studied law in Edinburgh and finished her PhD in Amsterdam (cum laude), she did postdoctoral research at the Nobel prize winning Ostrom Workshop in the United States for a year. At the moment, she is a fellow at Oxford University and lecturer at ETH Zurich. Yet she decided to apply for the vacancy at the Law Group. ‘Wageningen offers a lot of options for collaboration and ‘big picture’ thinking and gives the opportunity to build my own research group.’
She expects to collaborate a lot with other parts of WUR. ‘Our living environment is regulated by laws. This makes the Law Group a crucial part of all the main research themes in Wageningen. In a science-for-impact university, you need law to transform knowledge and ideas into action.’
Which insights will Van Zeben take to Wageningen from her previous work environments? ‘One of the key insights that I bring to this position is that in fostering successful and impactful research and teaching, the academic culture of an institution is enormously influential. Positive and supportive research and teaching cultures help to challenge each other, in order to generate impactful research output. A particular academic norm that I have been exposed to through my time in the United States is to welcome constructive disagreement. I have learned most from people that disagreed with me and provided me with constructive ways to push my own thinking further. Exposure to other perspectives and methods of thinking is what generates extraordinary ideas.’