Professor Andy Stirling from University of Sussex wrote a ‘transdisciplinary nexus methods’ discussion paper, which can be downloaded here, outlining some of the issues and challenges in this area.
The paper was used to stimulate thinking at the 29 and 20 June 2015 workshop on ‘Transdisciplinary Methods for developing Nexus Capabilities’ which was held at Sussex University.
The paper makes the case for the need to address the political dimensions of these ‘nexus challenges’, not only in the sense of revealing or challenging the politics which result in the persistence of issues of inequality related to food, energy and water access, but also appreciating the political dimensions of how knowledge about these problems and possibilities is produced and circulates. As Andy says:
“It is not just the social and institutional contexts and alternative possible actions and policies that are inherently political. The ways in which the problems and possibilities are understood and appreciated can also be profoundly value-laden and pervaded by sectoral interests. So, entrenched power relations are not just obstacles to the material achievement of transformative change. They can also leave strong imprints in shaping policy knowledges about what these changes might even be” (p. 3).
The paper reviews over a hundred different methodological approaches, and maps these out according to three principal general considerations: whether the main social practices and relations involved in implementing a given method tend to be (what might be called) ‘analytic’ or ‘interactive’ in nature; whether the style of enquiry distinguishing those kinds of method that might broadly be characterized as ‘mostly quantitative’, ‘primarily qualitative’ or ‘explicitly mixed’; or whether the principal processes of reasoning associated with a given method tend to be ‘largely deductive’, ‘mainly inductive’ or ‘chiefly abductive’ (see Fig 6, p. 17).
The paper argues that “Whether the aim is substantively to address these challenges, or merely to provide instrumental justification, the basic problem is the same. Not only is there no single method that can bear this political load. No matter how high their policy status might be in other respects (like economics), there exists no single discipline that can do so either … what is clear is that what is needed is a general methodology under which can be harnessed a diverse mix of complementary methods” (p. 16).
Different forms of interdisciplinarity (i.e. attempts to move beyond individual disciplinary approaches, or hierarchically structured ‘mutlidisciplinarity’ toward more horizontal forms of interaction and collaboration) and transdisciplinarity (i.e. the broadening out of the framings of research problems and approaches beyond academic disciplines to incorporate understandings and priorities of other stakeholders), are argued to be crucial in the process of countering powerful political and institutional pressures for research to ‘close down’ around particular favoured disciplines or approaches (often risk-based approaches), in order to provide expedient policy justifications for particular decisions.
Download the paper here
Feedback your comments by Friday 10 July 2015
We’d really like to hear any feedback or comments on any aspect of this paper, both from those attending the workshop, and those who weren’t able to attend. Comments will be considered for the updated version of the paper.
If you would like to make any comment on the paper then please email your ideas to Martin Ince Martin@martinince.com by Friday 10 July 2015.