When will we Discuss “Bridging Gaps” between Research and Practice? Reflections from the Conference Introductions

“Are we going to talk about nationality or internationality?” asked Michal Lošťák, Vice-Rector of CULS, as he welcomed the crowded assembly to Tropentag yesterday. Taking the conference theme of ‘gaps’ to be ‘bridged,’ he focused on gaps between perspectives from different cultures. “A scientific community operates across borders,” he continued, “[it is] interesting to hear how African students agree or disagree with European students.” While I agree that points of conflict are intellectually illuminating, for me something was missing in all the introductory speeches at the Plenary session yesterday. That is, the central question of the conference: how to bridge the gaps ‘between increasing knowledge and decreasing resources’ was hardly mentioned. This is troubling to me. The conference itself is an engine for the exchange and production of new ideas, and as such could potentially increase the knowledge/resource availability dichotomy it seeks to resolve. To me, the discussion of how to put existing knowledge into practice is more urgent, as climatic changes, population growth, and industrial exploitation pose immediate threats to the availability of natural resources on which we all depend, particularly for food security. The conversations to be had at Tropentag about development perhaps offer an avenue for us, as a diverse academic community, to address our reluctance to move from questions of theory to questions of practice. As Marek Libřický from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs reflected in his greeting, the Czech Republic, “still considered an emerging nation,” has a unique opportunity. It can share its “experiences in transitioning” from an agrarian society to a market based economy with other nations also undergoing this process. In this exchange of experience, particularly mistakes, we can develop solutions to problems of applying academic findings to the real world. And, overcoming these hurdles is where we can really make an impact.


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