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The undisciplinary journey: early-career perspectives in sustainability science
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0265-5356
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
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2017 (English)In: Sustainability Science, ISSN 1862-4065, E-ISSN 1862-4057Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

The establishment of interdisciplinary Master’s and PhD programs in sustainability science is opening up an exciting arena filled with opportunities for early-career scholars to address pressing sustainability challenges. However, embarking upon an interdisciplinary endeavor as an early-career scholar poses a unique set of challenges: to develop an individual scientific identity and a strong and specific methodological skill-set, while at the same time gaining the ability to understand and communicate between different epistemologies. Here, we explore the challenges and opportunities that emerge from a new kind of interdisciplinary journey, which we describe as ‘undisciplinary.’ Undisciplinary describes (1) the space or condition of early-career researchers with early interdisciplinary backgrounds, (2) the process of the journey, and (3) the orientation which aids scholars to address the complex nature of today’s sustainability challenges. The undisciplinary journey is an iterative and reflexive process of balancing methodological groundedness and epistemological agility to engage in rigorous sustainability science. The paper draws upon insights from a collective journey of broad discussion, reflection, and learning, including a survey on educational backgrounds of different generations of sustainability scholars, participatory forum theater, and a panel discussion at the Resilience 2014 conference (Montpellier, France). Based on the results from this diversity of methods, we suggest that there is now a new and distinct generation of sustainability scholars that start their careers with interdisciplinary training, as opposed to only engaging in interdisciplinary research once strong disciplinary foundations have been built. We further identify methodological groundedness and epistemological agility as guiding competencies to become capable sustainability scientists and discuss the implications of an undisciplinary journey in the current institutional context of universities and research centers. In this paper, we propose a simple framework to help early-career sustainability scholars and well-established scientists successfully navigate what can sometimes be an uncomfortable space in education and research, with the ultimate aim of producing and engaging in rigorous and impactful sustainability science.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
Keyword [en]
Interdisciplinary, Education, Sustainability science, Undisciplinary, Methodological groundedness, Epistemological agility
National Category
Other Natural Sciences Other Social Sciences
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145557DOI: 10.1007/s11625-017-0445-1OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-145557DiVA: diva2:1130293
Available from: 2017-08-09 Created: 2017-08-09 Last updated: 2017-08-17
In thesis
1. Development and Resilience: Re-thinking poverty and intervention in biocultural landscapes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Development and Resilience: Re-thinking poverty and intervention in biocultural landscapes
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The practices related to the growing, harvesting, preparation, and celebration of food over millennia have given rise to diverse biocultural landscapes the world over. These landscapes – rich in biological and cultural diversity – are often characterised by persistent poverty, and, as such, are often the target of development interventions. Yet a lack of understanding of the interdependencies between human well-being, nature, and culture in these landscapes means that such interventions are often unsuccessful - and can even have adverse effects, exacerbating the poverty they were designed to address. This thesis investigates different conceptualisations of persistent poverty in rural biocultural landscapes, the consequences of these conceptualisations, and the ways in which development interventions can benefit from, rather than erode, biocultural diversity.

The thesis first reviews conceptualisations of persistent poverty and specifically, the notion of a poverty trap (Paper I), and examines the consequences of different conceptualisations of traps for efforts to alleviate poverty (Paper II). Paper I argues that the trap concept can be usefully broadened beyond a dominant development economics perspective to incorporate critical interdependencies between humans and nature. Paper II uses multi-dimensional dynamical systems models to show how nature and culture can be impacted by different development interventions, and, in turn, how the degradation of both can undermine the effectiveness of conventional poverty alleviation strategies in certain contexts.

In the second section, the thesis focuses on the effects of, and responses to, trap-like situations and development interventions in a specific context of high biocultural diversity: the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. Paper III advances a typology of responses to traps based around the mismatch of desires, abilities and opportunities. Observing daily practice provides a way to study social-ecological relationships as a dynamic process, as practices can embody traditional and tacit knowledge in a holistic way.  Paper IV examines the diverse effects of a development intervention on the coevolution of biocultural landscapes and the ways in which everyday practice – particularly around food – can be a source of both innovation and resilience.

Papers I-IV together combine insights from diverse disciplines and methodologies, from systematic review to dynamic systems thinking and participant observation. Paper V provides a critical analysis of the opportunities and challenges involved in pursuing such an approach in sustainability science, underscoring the need to balance methodological groundedness with epistemological agility.

Overall, the thesis contributes to understanding resilience and development, highlighting the value of viewing their interrelation as a dynamic, coevolving process. From this perspective, development should not be regarded as a normative endpoint to be achieved, but rather as a coevolving process between constantly changing ecological and social contexts. The thesis proposes that resilience can be interpreted as the active and passive filtering of practices via the constant discarding and retention of old and new, social and ecological, and endogenous and exogenous factors. This interpretation deepens understanding of resilience as the capacity to persist, adapt and transform, and ultimately shape new development pathways. The thesis also illustrates how daily practices, such as the growing, harvesting, and preparation of food, offer a powerful heuristic device for understanding this filtering process, and therefore the on-going impact of development interventions in rural landscapes across the world.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 2017
Keyword
biocultural diversity, coevolution, development, interdisciplinary, Pamir Mountains, poverty traps, resilience, social-ecological systems
National Category
Other Natural Sciences
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145665 (URN)978-91-7649-909-2 (ISBN)978-91-7649-910-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-09-29, Vivi Täckholmsalen (Q-salen), NPQ-huset, Svante Arrhenius väg 20, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
EU, FP7, Seventh Framework Programme
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 4: Manuscript.

Available from: 2017-09-06 Created: 2017-08-17 Last updated: 2017-09-05Bibliographically approved

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Haider, L. JamilaHentati-Sundberg, JonasGiusti, MatteoGoodness, JulieMasterson, Vanessa A.Meacham, MeganMerrie, AndrewOspina, DanielSchill, CarolineSinare, Hanna
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