Reflections from the Wednesday parallel session on ” Inter- and transdisciplinarity in SES research”

Day three into the conference began to feel like a routine. It gave a sense of belonging to a community as faces became more familiar and conversations found greater meaning. After attending a wonderful session on food security and biodiversity conservation I jumped into blogging mode for the theme plenary on ‘Inter- and transdisciplinarity in Social-ecological systems research’.

Discussants Maria Mancilla Garcia and Tilman Hertz of Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, set the stage to introduce the first pair of panellists Cristina Zurbriggen from University of the Republic, Uruguay, and François Bousquet from Cirad, France. The second pair was of the ladies Jamila Haider and Maria Tengö at the Stockholm Resilience Centre who engage in research with indigenous communities.

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“They have all have done fascinating work in terms of transdisciplinary research…Inter and transdisciplinary share challenges and opportunities. We want to discuss them with the speakers on how to navigate the challenges and how to exploit opportunities.”

The conversations centred around two “blocks”. Block 1: stakeholder engagement and power relations. Block 2: co-production of knowledge.

I made some notes of the following content heavy discussions that emerged from the two blocks. This became harder to follow with the mix of accents from different parts of the world, making me very nervous about not having a blog at the end! Thankfully, my interviews during the master’s programme got me into a habit of voice-recording talks that need post-reflection and analysis.

As I listened to the recording, a map of transdisciplinary research and approaches to inclusion of different knowledge types opened before me. Figure 1 is a disposition of the discussants, panellists and audience voices:

  1. Stakeholder engagement requires a process of solving conflict and understanding. We need to explore conflict and contradiction to frame and reframe the problem between actors. This process can help us (scientists) to learn more.
  2. It is a process of including values (of others) of empathy, sustainability, reciprocity and openness. Researchers also need to make their values explicit, such as vested interest in conservation for example.
  3. Power has two dimensions, that of political power and the power of science. This power can either include or exclude stakeholders.
  4. In order to include perspectives, transdisciplinary research picks on single disciplines to build a school of thought and create a new language, to formulate a new question.
  5. Transdisciplinary is a practice/ process which requires time and dialogue between different epistemological backgrounds. This can help to understand the language and the relevant theoretical background.
  6. High methodological groundedness can provide skills and combining it with high epistemological agility, you can achieve a space for rigorous sustainability science. Reflexivity can help to navigate this entire process- reflexivity in how we use scientific jargon which makes concepts more or less visible.
  7. Co-production of knowledge faces the challenge of validation of knowledge (what is knowledge?) which can happen within knowledge systems and across knowledge systems. This involves power asymmetries such as it is often scientific knowledge validating indigenous knowledge or natural science validating social science. It is once again, a process of dialogue and the type of process involved in conducting the dialogue.
  8. Integrating different perspectives requires design-thinking. Design thinking is one way of learning and there are many ways of learning, then what is science? – we need to engage with different ways of learning.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Radhika Gupta is from India, and she recently completed her Master’s at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), Sweden. She has a BA in visual communication design from Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore where she designed an interactive timeline about the Anthropocene which opened a new world of ideas. Her master’s thesis looked at the consequences of a one-size-fits-all approach to development, for small agricultural villages in the Himalayas in Sikkim, India. Currently, she is working on a creative research process at the SRC, to write a scientific article based on her thesis.

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