2017-03-22Diskussionspapier DOI: 10.18452/3136
The position of scientists in transformations of human-environment systems. An inquiry into IRI THESys research practices
Transformation is a multi-faceted concept with various meanings and assumptions about desired human-environment relationships and pathways towards the ideal (sustainable) society. We need a better understanding of the different positions that scientists assume when conducting research and becoming involved in transformations of human-environment systems. In this paper we begin such an analysis by exploring how researchers at the Humboldt-Universität’s Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) position themselves within that research. Empirical work was conducted in three steps. First, a survey was carried out among the institute’s academic staff to explore the influence of ideology, their involvement in processes outside academia, the ways in which their research relates to transformations of human-environment systems, and the type of science that gives them more recognition in their peer groups or institutions. Second, the findings from the survey were used as a basis for six semi-structured interviews with a sample of respondents to further investigate the heterogeneity of positions in the institute’s research on transformations. Third, the co-authors of the paper – all of them IRI THESys staff – were asked to compare the overall findings with the notion that their scientific community has on the role of scientists in transformations of human-environment systems. In the results we systemize IRI THESys’ scientists’ positions and use them to critically reflect on the complex relationships between science and human-environment transformation. Based on our findings, we conclude that IRI THESys is a very heterogeneous epistemic environment, whose strength lies in its ability to keep people with diverse specialisations and convictions in dialogue with each other. Accountability towards different communities (scientific and beyond) and the humility of knowledge practices before the complexity of human-environment systems in transformation is key to positioning the IRI THESys in transformation research.
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