Science & InnovationDr. Sander van der Leeuw
Dr. Van der Leeuw has spent his career studying human-environment relations and invention and innovation in society, applying the lessons learned from history to help understand why humanity is not facing up to the long-term issue of environmental change.
He works at Arizona State University as Dean of the School of Sustainability and Foundation Professor at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. An archaeologist and medieval historian by training, Dr. Van der Leeuw has studied ancient technologies, ancient and modern man-land relationships, and Complex Systems Theory. He has done archaeological fieldwork in Syria, Holland, and France, and conducted ethno-archaeological studies in the Near East, the Philippines and Mexico.
He coordinated a series of trans-disciplinary research projects on socio-natural interactions and modern environmental problems in the countries of the Northern Mediterranean rim (ARCHAEOMEDES I and II and others, 1991-2000). Among these were studies aimed at understanding and modelling the natural and anthropogenic causes of desertification, land degradation and land abandonment, as well as the interaction between towns and countryside. These projects were the first to choose the Complex Adaptive Systems approach to help solve 'hairy' problems such as these.
More recently, he has been studying the phenomenon of innovation. The Information Society as a Complex System (ISCOM, 2003-2006) project investigated the relationship between innovation and urban dynamics. With an extensive research team, he investigated how invention occurs, what the preconditions are, how the context influences it, and its role in society. He is currently involved in applying Complex Systems approaches to the study of this phenomenon in the United States, and in particular in Phoenix.
In July 2001, he was appointed Secretary-General of the French National Council for the Coordination of the Humanities and Social Sciences. This was followed by an appointment as Deputy Director at the National Institute for the Sciences of the Universe and for Social Sciences at the CNRS (2002-2003) in France, in charge of a program similar to the Long-Term Ecological Research programme in the US.
Prior to his current roles, he taught at Leyden (1972-1976), Amsterdam (1976-1985), Cambridge (UK; 1985-1995) and Paris (Panthéon-Sorbonne; 1995-2003). His publications include 17 books and over 120 papers and articles on archaeology, ancient technologies, socio-environmental and sustainability issues, as well as invention and innovation. He is an external professor of the Santa Fe Institute, a corresponding member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences and an emeritus Chair of the Institut Universitaire de France.