Yesterday at the PECS2015 conference we joined a great session with “young” scholars to reflect on who we are as a community of researchers and how we do what we do. SAPECS scholars Vanessa, Jessica and Odi convened it and we focused on three key questions: 1) What is our identity as SES researchers? 2) What are the challenges we experience in applying suitable tools and approaches for place-based, transdisciplinary research? and 3) How do we build a career as SES researchers? We addressed these questions through a debate, speed talks on place-based case studies, and a panel discussion with some of the “elders” of our community.
In reflecting on our identity as social-ecological researchers we considered what name to give our community. This was done as a roleplay of a community, which had been forced to adopt a new name. Marika Haeggman was our elected Mayor who facilitated the debate. The proposed name was Sustainable Transdisciplinary Resilience Ecosystem Science for Society, needless to say the acronym is STRESS! These were the reactions from the extended community:
The discussion seemed to indicate that the participants preferred to remain unnamed and have a more open identity. The openness that such an identity brings is both challenging, but also allows for creativity in how we do our research. One of the speakers, Johan Enqvist said that we might be more defined by the questions we ask and the issues we address, than our methods and disciplinary backgrounds. Caroline Schill reflected that interdisciplinary research can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope: on the one side we need to dare to be unconventional in our methods, on the other hand we need to be aware of the “disciplined” way of doing things if we want to publish our work in a certain field. One of the wise panelists, Joshua Lewis, shared his experiences of fitting into different disciplinary homes during his career and learning to adapt his language depending on the norm of each institution. Joana Carlos Bezerra stated that instead of being in a place where everyone does what she does, she would rather find a space where you are allowed to do what you want to do, how you want to do it.
The ethical dilemmas we face in engaged place-based emerged as an important discussion point. Vanessa Masterson shared an interesting insight from her work in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, where she faced a dilemma in providing honest (critical) feedback to the community, which may jeopardize the relationship of trust she built with them during her research. How do we meet the expectations of the local communities we work with? Another panelist, Tom Chaigneau, proposed that instead of disseminating our findings, which are often complex, we could throw a party for the research participants! Shauna Mahajan raised another ethical conundrum: she faced difficulties in maintaining neutrality when encountering gatekeepers in her research in Kenya.
Alta de Vos’s final word was that she takes with her how supported she has been. There is a lot of support out there that we definitely should seek out when we are doing this type of high-stakes, tightrope-dancing research! However, it is not only the students who need to prepare for this; we also need to build institutional capacity in training and create spaces and cultures that encourage reflection.
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