Science, Politics, Advocacy and the Environment-Development Nexus in the Cold War and Beyond

This project seeks to fill a gap in environmental history around the role of scientists in the formulation and shaping of environmental policy. Environmental policy-making has long been informed at least in part by science. Over time, awareness of ecological problems and their myriad effects have grown among policy-makers, scientists, and citizens, some of whom became environmental activists engaged in social action and resistance. The tension between protecting the environment and pursuing economic growth at a national level has come to be known as the environment-development nexus. The project will investigate this nexus focusing on the historical role of scientists and hard science in informing policy-making around environmentally-impacting development projects in the Global South, with the aim of shedding light on the tension between environment protection and development promotion and of fostering scientifically informed policy-making.
The University of Trento research unit will focus particularly on the environmental consequences of dam construction in Africa, looking particularly at three aspects. First, we will investigate the role of international and local scientific communities in orienting decision-making processes in favour or against dam construction, looking at how scientists contributed to the creation and to the development of remedies to environmental damage deriving from the construction of dams. Secondly, we will look at how scientists and scientific knowledge involved in the construction of dams are perceived amongst local community groups and NGOs, and to what extent they were involved in environmental activism. Thirdly, we will explore the relations between state actors of selected African countries and development experts involved in these projects, focusing particularly on the relationship between local governments and scientific consultants working for development agencies, and between the international and local expert communities. The project will focus mostly on Ethiopia as a case study. 

Research Team

  • Sara Lorenzini (Coordinator) (School of International Studies, University of Trento)
  • Sara de Simone (School of International Studies, University of Trento)
  • Louisa Parks (School of International Studies, University of Trento)
  • Umberto Tulli (School of International Studies, University of Trento)
  • Fernanda Marchiol (PhD Student, Dpt. of Humanities, University of Trento)
  • Michele Alacevich (University of Bologna)

Other research units involved in the Project: 

  • Simone Bellezza, Elisabetta Bini (Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II)
  • Francesco Cassata (Università degli Studi di Genova)
  • Elisabetta Vezzosi (Università degli Studi di Trieste)


Italian Ministry of University and Research - Call PRIN 2017 –  CUP E64I19003100005 "The scientific community and development projects in Africa during the Cold War. Assessing the impact on the environment".