Nils Klim Laureate Siddharth Sareen's Acceptance Speech


Nils Klim Laureate Siddharth Sareen's Acceptance Speech is published here in full.

Dear Minister Oddmund Hoel, Your Excellencies, Madam Rector Margareth Hagen, Holberg Prize Laureate Achille Mbembe, the Holberg Prize committee, the Nils Klim committee, family, friends and colleagues,

Thank you for being with us, in person or online, and for your role in making this delightful occasion possible!

I feel a deep sense of resonance with Nils Klim, the protagonist of Ludvig Holberg’s 1741 novel. Like the author, he has a connection to Bergen and Copenhagen, cities I have loved living in. Being honoured in Bergen and spending this festive week in the company of many cherished friends, colleagues, and guests of the Holberg Prize makes me smile.

I am deeply grateful for the recognition of work that matters enormously to me, and conscious that while the Nils Klim Prize goes to a person, the reason I merit it relates to something far bigger than myself. If Holberg's satirical science fiction novel was a means of holding a mirror up to society to enlighten it away from biases that held it back, the task of environmental social scientists today is no less demanding, nor less urgent. We require similar creativity to help shed light on issues in ways that capture people's imagination. 

Our society today remains in the grip of fossil fuels and our embodied memory of a world reliant on them. Renewable energy sources offer us better, more responsible ways of living at lower cost, yet we are all too slow in our embrace of these solutions, in the face of the urgent climate challenge. This reluctance is anchored in our collective willingness to live with the status quo, rather than rising to act in solidarity with the past, present, and future victims of climate change.

When transitions do happen, they often reproduce existing socioecological injustices, working through the mechanisms most readily afforded to change in a still inequitable world. Contributing an understanding of these dynamics is a key task for environmental social scientists; so is identifying pathways along which to act and developing tools to equip society to transform. This ideal of an engaged researcher, working in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways, is a fundamental part of my work ethic. 

I accept this award, then, with the acknowledgement that it recognises achievements that stem from collective endeavour and collaborative commitment. I am inspired by many whose research has put key building blocks in place, and informed by many who are in positions to determine and implement the vital changes of our time. Just as our disciplines and praxes exhibit variety, individuals are part of multiple collectives.

In the personal sphere, I am thankful for the incredible support, camaraderie, and companionship of my family, especially my wife Annie, daughter Indus, parents, grandparents and relatives, and our dog Fado. Friends the world over render so many experiences abundantly joyous through care.

But collaboration and collectives thrive only when institutional support and intellectual freedom exist. I am warmed by the welcoming reception that I - and we as an immigrant family - have received in Norway. I am painfully aware of how many do not have access to similarly enabling conditions in which they can deliver to their full potential, or even pursue the causes they espouse and nurture the talents and skills they hold dear. Without many scholarships, transparent recruitment processes, and grants, my hard work would hardly have worked to full effect.

The Nils Klim Prize committee and the Holberg Prize Board and secretariat constitute examples of the institutional vision and labour required to nourish openness and excellence. In many parts of the world, these values are under severe threat, and both academic freedom and basic wellbeing suffer, to our societal detriment. In Palestine and Ukraine we see the current worst excesses, but these are manifestations of a widespread malady that requires courageous resistance.

A prize that highlights the social sciences, humanities, law, and theology in the Nordic countries is a blessing. I hope and work for a world where such an ethos is widely shared. It is a privilege to have this year's recipient of the Holberg Prize be Achille Mbembe, who has contributed so magnificently in this respect.

I wish to close by sharing a poem I have composed for this occasion:

What is it to win an award, a single glorious day? 
A moment in the limelight, as one goes one's way? 
I think it is a chance to reflect quietly on our lives
And to consider anew that for which one strives. 

It is about more than me, or you, or what we can do
It's even about more than what we have just been through, 
An award is recognition of something bigger than
A person. It has to do with what makes us human.

As Nils Klim found, venturing underground, 
Time brings surprises and changes abound. 
The lack of self-insight is socially infective, 
Limiting both individuals and the collective.

An award is an occasion to take stock of what one does
And in the tumult of the world to go beyond the fuss
Of me and mine. A time to ask how I can help us weather
The raging storms of our time. My answer is: together.