Bildtext får vara max två rader text. Hela texten ska högerjusteras om den bara ska innehålla fotobyline! Photo: B. Christensen/Azote
From conceptual la-la-land to rigorous sustainability science
Former and current PhD students from SRC propose a new framework to help early-career sustainability scholars to become “undisciplinary”
- A group of former and current PhD students from SRC propose a framework to help early-career sustainability scholars follow an “undisciplinary” journey
- This means being interdisciplinary individuals rather than researchers from different disciplines working together in interdisciplinary teams
- The “undisciplinary journey” and “undisciplinary compass” proposed can help achieve rigorous sustainability science, and may also be helpful for other interdisciplinary fields
Spare a thought for confused PhD students. The field of sustainability science is a problem-driven and solutions-oriented line of research often at odds with traditional academic thinking where collaboration across disciplines is unsual, if not even frowned upon. If you do sustainability science you belong to no single discipline. Rather, you work across them.
That is not always easy.
Based on their experiences, a group of former and current PhD-students at the Stockholm Resilience Centre propose a framework that could help others to successfully navigate what can sometimes be both a rewarding and an “uncomfortable” space in education and research.
"As a group of young scholars at a sustainability science institution, we feel well situated to reflect on the formal and informal dimensions of this process. We hope that the lessons we have learned will be of use to other early-career scholars faced with similar opportunities and challenges," they write.
The framework, which is published in the journal Sustainability Science, draws upon the students’ insights from a number of discussions, reflections, and learning over several years. The proposed framework is, however, also based on a survey of educational backgrounds of different generations of sustainability scholars, a participatory forum theatre (sic!), and a panel discussion at the Resilience 2014 conference in Montpellier, France. The latter is a major international sustainability science conference that is held every three years.
A world dominated by established disciplines
As early-career sustainability scholars, the authors of the paper describe a tension that arises from their motivation to both address complex and broad human–environment problems while at the same time ensuring that they develop a sufficiently specialized skill-set to contribute meaningfully toward knowledge generation and solutions.
How can we, as graduate students and future researchers, perform high-quality research and build identity in the field of sustainability science, when starting as interdisciplinary individuals without profound roots in a discipline, and working within a world dominated by established disciplines?
Increasingly, they argue, PhD-students in sustainability science are no longer ecologists, economists, or sociologists working together in an interdisciplinary team, but rather they are interdisciplinary individuals engaging with various disciplines or others with a similar interdisciplinary background. This way of operating is what the authors refer to as “undisciplinary science”.
A compass for undisciplinarity
The eleven authors are Jamila Haider, Jonas Hentati-Sundberg, Matteo Giusti, Julie Goodness, Maike Hamann, Vanessa Masterson, Megan Meacham, Andrew Merrie, Daniel Ospina, Caroline Schill and Hanna Sinare.
They conclude that a growing number of sustainability science researchers can be described as ‘undisciplinary’ scholars. They also suggest how to navigate and embrace this way of doing research through a framework including an “undisciplinary journey” and an “undisciplinary compass” to help early-career researchers not to get lost in their efforts to contribute to more sustainable futures.
The compass illustrates the well-known ‘breadth’ vs. ‘depth’ struggle in science and indicates that both “methodological groundedness” (deep knowledge of methods within one or a few disciplines) and “epistemological agility” (ability to work across several disciplines) are needed for rigorous sustainability science. In simple terms, epistemology is the study of how we acquire knowledge.
As such the compass can help scholars to avoid ending up in what the authors call “conceptual la–la-land”, where jargon and concepts can hijack early-career scholars’ attention. Other places to navigate away from include: “disciplinary immersion” (where methodological skills are high but reflection on the epistemological underpinning of the methods is poor) or the “uncomfortable space” in the lower right corner (high degree of epistemological awareness but limited skills in specific methods).
“The undisciplinary journey and compass we describe may also be helpful for other interdisciplinary fields, or for scholars who may have abandoned their ‘background’ discipline and find themselves in new and uncomfortable spaces,” they conclude.
The framework proposed is based on a three step inquiry: (1) a survey within the broader resilience science community; (2) participatory forum theater, first in an exploratory workshop within the PhD student cohort at SRC and then at an open conference session, and (3) an expert panel discussion. The latter two steps took place at the Resilience 2014 conference in a special session called ‘Students’ perspectives on sustainability science research—are we moving towards undisciplinarity?’
General news | 2024-02-29
Johan Rockström awarded the Tyler Prize
Johan Rockström, professor and former director at Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, now leading the University of Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, has received the world's top environmental prize.
Research news | 2024-02-20
Having good neighbours and few top predators make predatory fish populations more resilient
A regime shift is gradually spreading through the archipelagos of the Swedish Baltic Sea coast, where shallow bays, previously dominated by pike and perch have one by one become dominated by one of their prey species, the three-spined stickleback.
Research news | 2024-02-08
Eating new plant-based foods can be good for the environment, your health and your economy
Replacing animal-source foods with plant-based alternatives or whole foods decreases environmental impact, meets nutrition recommendations, and can be cost-competitive with the current average Swedish diet
Research news | 2024-01-29
Bird AI and sailing drones – green game changers for marine ecosystems
Groups of guillemots on an island in the Baltic Sea have unknowingly inspired how marine research can be done. Two AI-powered research projects can change how to monitor marine ecosystems – and potentially manage them in real-time
Research news | 2024-01-24
Centralised social networks can hinder innovation by making decision-making too similar
Social systems where influence is centred around one or two individuals can lead to pack mentality and groupthink in farming communities
Research news | 2024-01-23
Planetary Commons: Fostering global cooperation to safeguard critical Earth system functions
We should look at tipping elements of the Earth system as global commons, argue researchers in a new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences