Fifty shades of evidence: A transdisciplinary research project on changing climate and water


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Presentation of a research proposal to the 2012 ASnA conference in Cape Town on 1 September

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  • Majored in Development Studies, Politics, International LawLectured in Development Studies for 14 yearsLecturing in four-fields Anthropology for 2 years nowCo-lead of the CEE – Johannesburg, hosted by the Centre for Anthropological Research (CfAR)Research in team of social scientists at UJ, CSIR & EPPI-Centre; exploring work with natural scientists.
  • Real life: growing population, hotter
  • Perils: tunnel vision; tied-up in constraints of field
  • Transgression of boundaries necessary; more cross-fertilisation requiredRe-imaginings
  • Appropriate research response for complex system; problem-focused.Is about transgressing boundaries.It is to transcend and connect.Transcend not only disciplinary boundaries, but also scientific knowledge systems; it is about dialogue across knowledge systems.Rist and Dahdouh-Guebas (2006:471) designate transdisciplinarity to refer firstly to “interdisciplinarity between basic and applied sciences on the one hand, and social and human sciences on the other” (i.e. interdisciplinarity that transcend the ‘boundaries’ of science knowledges). Secondly, transdisciplinarity move beyond just the integration of different science disciplines, but also aims to integrate science knowledges and local knowledges, in a ‘democratisation’ of knowledge production that recognises a “plurality of forms of knowledge, world views and the ethical values connected to them within different social and cultural groups” (Rist & Dahdouh-Guebas 2006:472).Russell and colleagues (2008:461) identify the characteristics of transdisciplinarity as a problem focus (namely research that deals with and is contextualised in ‘real-world’ problems), an evolving methodology (research that involves iterative, reflective processes responsive to particular questions, settings and groupings), and collaboration (between science disciplines and external actors)Jean Piaget coined the phrase ‘transdisciplinarity’ in 1969 in the context of the education field (Nicolescu 2005:1; 2002:1); spread to health and environment.First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity in November 1994 in Portugal.Transdisciplinarity = Fifty shades of evidence
  • Transdisciplinarity thus involves a shift in who producers and users of knowledge are towards co-production of knowledge (Gibbons & Nowotny 2000; Pohl 2008:47), what Jasanoff (2003:235) calls “polycentric, interactive, and multiple processes of knowledge making”.
  • “Transdisciplinary approaches can help different stakeholder groups to share and use their knowledge and experience for problem focused inquiry” (Apgar et al 2009:255).“different experts, risk-bearers, and local communities are involved and knowledge and practice is contested, co-produced and reflected upon” (Vogel et al 2007:349).Produce knowledge that is scientifically reliable, socially robust and politically acceptable (Hollaender & Leroy 2001:221).
  • Local, indigenous or traditional knowledges (see debate about concepts in Fisher 2004)About understanding rooted in local culture (Sillitoe & Bicker 2004:2)Is shared, though not homogenousMany times orally transmitted, or through demonstration / imitation
  • “Complex systems are shaped by cross-scale interactions, nonlinear feedbacks, and uncertainty, among other factors. Transdisciplinary approaches that combine participatory and conventional methods and democratise knowledge to enable diverse inputs, including those from local, informal experts, are essential tools in understanding such systems. The metaphor of a ‘bridge’ to overcome the divide between different disciplines and knowledge systems is often used to advocate for more inclusive approaches.” (Cundill et al 2005)
  • “… We argue that a boat navigating between unknown shores may be a more appropriate metaphor than a bridge, whose starting and end points are fixed and known” (Cundill et al 2005).Vogel and colleagues (2007:351) therefore, instead of using metaphors of ‘bridging’ knowledge systems and fields, prefer to use the imagery of “complex labyrinths of communication and engagement”.Enter less-chartered waters.
  • “The new science of complexity offers a paradigm that is a viable alternative to positivist, reductionist approaches to inquiry. It calls for a different approach for science and management, away from centralised co-ordination towards a philosophy of guidance rather than control” (Apgar et al 2009:3).No dominant and submissive.
  • Within the science field of Anthropology there is a long history of researching local knowledges, and especially local environmental knowledges, “ranging from etnoscience, to applied anthropology, to the more recent political ecology and environmental movements” (Roncoli et al 2009:93).
  • “transcendence does not mean cutting off from the ground where one stands but widening one’s horizons” (Giri 2002:108).Disciplinary open windows & doors
  • “The practice of a creative transdisciplinarity does not dispense with the notion of commitment but it is a perspectival commitment; it is not the disciplinary commitment of a missionary zealot who seeks to convert the entire world into one’s dogma.” (Giri 2002:106).
  • Ideal topic for transdisciplinary research: Climate change as good example of complex problem, “characterised by high levels of uncertainty, multiple perspectives and multiple interlinked processes from local to global scales” (Apgar et al 2009:255)Climate change considered by some as poster child of interdisciplinarity (Reisinger 2011)But literature cited in third assessment report of IPCC heavily dominated by natural sciences, with minority social science content heavily dominated by economics (Bjurström & Polk 2011) – analysis of anthropogenic climate change dominated by positivist at expense of interpretative (Nisbet et al 2010)Further, mostly global scale positivist computer-generated quantitative top-down ‘science knowledge’ from largely the wealthy (North, rich, formally educated) on which most policy decisions are based, seems to give little attention to local scale contextual qualitative analyses (Magistro & Roncoli 2001:91), and to ‘local knowledges’ from largely the poor (South, formally uneducated).
  • 1.Already in 1970s Margaret Mead, with meteorologists William Kellogg, drove concerns of anthropologists regarding climate change at a workshop on the topic.3. Roncoli et al (2009) listed 192 publications in their review of approaches to climate change and culture.
  • For Magistro and Roncoli (2001:94) relevance of anthropological studies to climate sciences is the capturing of complexities of localised social, economic, and political realities to complement global modelling exercises to inform policy related to climate change. Typology by Magistro and Roncoli (2001:94): perceptions and knowledge of climate variability, human adaptation and social vulnerability to climate shocks, and the interconnections between global, regional, and local scales of analysis.local peoples’ knowledges are ‘correct’- various anthropologists question usefulness its usefulness as can easily present local knowledgesdecontextualised, and assume scientific knowledge as valid and more authoritative for policy-making (Roncoli et al 2009:96; West et al 2008:290)- rather look at convergences and divergences4. She identifies four foci of place-based community research, namely ethnoclimatology, resiliency, disasters and displacement, and resource management (Crate 2011:180).
  • Climate variability indicates that climatic variables (such as temperature and precipitation), beyond that of individual weather events, deviate either above or below an average (IPCC 2001; Mukheibir 2007:1-2).
  • 1. Water described as “a primary nexus between climate and society, and the impacts of climate change on societies are likely to manifest most severely through impacts on water resources and societal responses to these impacts” (McNeeley et al 2012:478). United Nations World Water Assessment Programme (2009:318) puts it straight forward: climate change is water change.2. Dominant ‘experience’ of changing climate in SA, and major area of vulnerability, is freshwater resources (Bates et al 2008:3): increased scarcity (too little water) & reduced quality.3. South African Country Studies Programme, and the recent National climate change response white paper (RSA 2011) identified water sector as one of most vulnerable sectors in SA to climate change impacts (Madzwamuse 2010:vi). Already in the 1990s SA was identified as one of countries that will experience considerable water scarcity by 2025 (UNEP 1999), with about half of river-systems endangered (Enow 2012:5), leaving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007) to project that by 2050 the annual average water availability in southern Africa will have decreased by 10-30%
  • Climate change magnifies & exacerbates existing social, economic, political & environmental trends, problems, issues, tensions, and challenges – climate change as “a threat multiplier (Crate & Nuttall 2009:11). For one, social justice issues will have to be placed at the forefront of dealing with climate change as poorest are the most vulnerable to its consequences, and, in terms of resources, are the least able to deal with it.
  • By 2011 SA government launched white paper on the South African Climate Change Response Strategy. This proposed strategy is based on various principles – two key principle, namely people-centred approach, and informed participation (RSA 2011:11). Unfortunately the current focus of informed participation is a top-down approach of people having to understand the science knowledge of climate change.
  • 2.Technical language of science knowledges and performative aspects of local knowledges do not seemingly articulate easily. Rather, various ‘domains of articulation’ are required for local and science knowledges to be integrated in policy and practice. With ‘domains of articulation’ I mean the broad areas of similarities or complementarities that make it possible for local and science knowledges to articulate / integrate.This to include ontological (levels of reality), epistemological challenges, axiology (study of values).
  • Story-telling needs elevating alongside fact-finding (Hulme 2011:177).Capture both emic (insiders) and etic (outsider) perspectives.
  • My methodology not fully a ‘lion’ (TD). For one, more room for participation in design of research (not time & resources).
  • “seek to identify, review, and synthesise all high quality studies on a particular research question, e.g. the effectiveness of a particular intervention” (Hughes & Hutchings 2011:10).
  • Source: Hadorn et al 2008:33
  • Fifty shades of evidence: A transdisciplinary research project on changing climate and water

    1. 1. Fifty shades of evidence – A transdisciplinaryresearch project on changing climate and water By Carina van Rooyen University of JohannesburgPresentation at the annual conference of Anthropology Southern Africa in Cape Town, 31 August-3 September 2012
    2. 2. About myself
    3. 3. • Looking for research project that not only bring together natural and social scientists in collaborative research project, but that do so in transdisciplinary manner which can be basis for integrating scientific and ‘traditional’/local forms of knowledge• About systems of knowledge; not superiority of one over another or with aim to validate local knowledges against science knowledges, but to explore their complementary uses – look for best of all worlds! (Mayoux 2007:16)• What is credible knowledge under what circumstances, “how is this knowledge generated and how is it used in decision making?” (Vogel et al 2007:349)• Articulation between knowledge / science, power and politics
    4. 4.
    5. 5. • Perils of mono-disciplinary vision for complex world problems• “The world has problems, but universities have departments” (Brewer 1999) Source:
    6. 6. Holy grail of knowledge?• Birth of science in disassociation from practical knowledge• Newtonian thinking: there are universal laws, that can be discovered by scientific research, and such research can be replicated• Development of disciplinary fields: “disciplinary boundary setting is often underpinned by a ‘Newtonian’ ontology which declares that the whole is the sum of the parts, which can therefore each be examined purely separately” (Gasper 2010:3)
    7. 7. Science / discipline
    8. 8. Source:
    9. 9. Related words?• Multi-disciplinarity = more than one; interdisciplinarity = Table source: Hessels & van Lente (2008:741) between; transdisciplinarity = across and beyond, involving non-scientists• Gibbons et al (1994)• Others called this post-normal science (Funtowicz & Ravetz 1993) or post-academic science (Zinman 2000) – destabilising the ‘expert’
    10. 10. Different perspectives
    11. 11. “Transdisciplinary research…aims atidentifying, structuring, analysing and handling issues in problemfields with the aspiration• to grasp the relevant complexity of a problem• to take into account the diversity of life-world and scientific perceptions of problems• to link abstract and case-specific knowledge• to develop knowledge and practices that promote what is perceived to be the common good” (Pohl & Hadorn quoted in Hoffmann-Riem et al 2008:4)
    12. 12. Source:
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    14. 14. Anthropology and transdisciplinarity• Four-fields Anthropology as “the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities” ~ Alfred Kroeber• “The coexistence of [humanistic and scientific] approaches within anthropology has itself been an enduring source of controversy; humanistic anthropologists tend to be dubious about the application of scientific methods to anthropological subjects, while the scientists vary in their tolerance for humanistic methods in proportion to their adherence to a Popperian or positivist belief in the unity of scientific method” (Lansing & Downey 2011:569)• Acknowledgement that we live in both material / physical and imaginative worlds (Hulme 2011)• For Preiser (2010:57) “anthropology operates in ‘liminal spaces’ which can be defined as ‘spaces between disciplines’”
    15. 15. Further encouraging aspects• Flexibility and innovation in methodology• Social relations / collaboration as fundamental to anthropology – dialogue with ‘stakeholders’ required• Acknowledgement of and respect for local cosmologies / knowledges; not incommensurable kinds of knowledge – makes mutual learning / co-production of knowledge a possibility Source:
    16. 16. Source: achieve-success
    17. 17. Source:
    18. 18. Source:
    19. 19. Source:
    20. 20. My research proposal
    21. 21. Source: change as rationale
    22. 22. Source:
    23. 23. Climate change & social anthropology• Earlier contributions came from archaeologists on, for example, resilience & decline, from cultural ecology, cultural materialism, and human ecology (Crate 2011:177)• By 1990s interest by anthropologists in climate change & culture started to extend beyond sub-fields of archaeology and environmental anthropology (Crate 2011:175; Rayner & Malone 1998)• In 2000s various edited collection, discussing anthropology of climate and climate change, e.g., Crate & Nuttall (2009), Strauss & Orlove (2003)• Growing interest due to: – reality of radical changes that climate change brings to people and their places that anthropologists study – recognition of crucial understanding necessary about human dimensions of climate change – role for anthropologists in growing interdisciplinary research in climate change adaptation research especially (Roncoli et al 2009:87)
    24. 24. Role of social anthropology• Social anthropology brings to climate change studies understanding “that culture frames the way people perceive, understand, experience, and respond to key elements of the worlds which they live in” (Roncoli et al 2009:87)• Three areas of anthropological research: contributions to the big-picture debates, analysis of the discourse of climate change, and rich descriptions of the realities at local level of what people observe, feel, experience, say, etc. about climate change, and how they respond to it (Milton 2008)• Until recently few studies on local knowledges that looked at climate (Roncoli et al 2009:94; West et al 2008:290)• Crate’s (2011:179) typology: place-based community research, and research on global negotiations & discourses
    25. 25. Changing climate
    26. 26. Why changing climate and water?
    27. 27. My question Do various knowledges in/of the Sekhukhune area concerning changing climate and water converge/diverge, and what are the domains of articulation between these knowledges?(1) Map southern Africa science (both natural & social) knowledges onchanging climate and water(2) Map (spatial, temporal, social) complexities of ‘local’ knowledge ofvarious stakeholders in Sekhukhune on changing climate and water(3) Indicate domains of articulation possible between ‘scienceknowledges’ and ‘local knowledges’ in this particular setting, as well ascomplexities, contestations, contradictions, and incompatibilities(4) Based on this, highlight implications for localised, andscale, decisions related to climate change adaptation
    28. 28. Source: Methodology• Sequential mixed methods study design with conscious blending of quantitative and qualitative research approaches in four phases• Phase 1: systematic review methodology• Phase 2: use framework of knowledges developed in phase 1 to design questionnaire (demographic & household info + Lickert scale) for survey (clustered sample). 1066 respondents (3% error tolerate, 95% confidence) methods-jargon-jongar-and-code/
    29. 29. • Phase 3: broad map of ‘local knowledges’ designed in phase 2 form basis to explore qualitatively ‘storied reality’. 60 in-depth interviews with purposively selected people for being part of specific stakeholder grouping (various community members, traditional leaders, local & provincial government officials, public & privately-owned conservation areas, NGOs, members of water user committees, health professionals, mining companies, and subsistence, emerging & commercial farmers• Phase 4: also 1st step in dissemination of research findings. Dialogues within Sekhukhune between various stakeholders facilitated by presenting and getting feedback on findings regarding the diverse knowledges mapped and on implications for policy & practice in area. Ten open-invitation community meetings + regional workshop
    30. 30. How do you wantit – the crystalmumbo-jumboor statisticalprobability?
    31. 31. Source:
    32. 32. Fifty shades of evidence• Complex realities & problems require transdisciplinarity• Not promoting dropping of monism – needs species & hybrids to co-exist & interact (Gasper 2010:5)• Also not against disciplinary loyalty but be wary of disciplinary chauvinism
    33. 33. References• Apgar JM, Argumedo A & Allen W 2009 Building transdisciplinarity for managing complexity: Lessons from indigenous practice. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences 4(5): 255-270• Bjurström A & Polk M 2011 Physical and economic bias in climate change research: A scientometric study of IPCC Third Assessment Report. Climatic change 108(1/2): 1-22. Doi: 10.1007/s10584-011-0018-8• Brace and Geoghegan 2010 Human geographies of climate change. Geoforum• Cundill GNR, Fabricius C & Marti N 2005 Foghorns to the future: Using knowledge and transdisciplinarity to navigate complex systems. Ecology and Society 10(2)• Gasper DR 2010 Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary: Diverse purposes of research – theory-orientated, situation-orientated, policy-orientated. In Thomson P & Walker M (eds) The Routledge doctoral student’s companion: Getting to grips with research in education and the social sciences. London: Routledge: 52-67• Gibbons M, Limoges C, Nowotny H, Schwartzman S, Scott P & Trow M 1994 The new production of knowledge: The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage• Giri AK 2002 The calling of a creative transdisciplinarity. Futures 34: 103–115
    34. 34. • Henderson MG 1995 Introduction: Borders, boundaries, and frame (works). In Henderson MG (ed) Borders, boundaries and frames: Cultural criticism and cultural studies. New York: Routledge• Hessels LK & van Lente H 2008 Re-thinking new knowledge production: A literature review and a research agenda. Research Policy 37: 740-760• Hoffmann-Riem H, Biber-Klemm S, Grossenbacher-Mansuy W, Hadorn GH, Joye D, Pohl C, Wiesmann U & Zemp E 2008 Idea of the handbook. In Hadorn GH , Hoffmann-Riem H, Biber-Klemm S, Grossenbacher-Mansuy W, Joye D, Pohl C, Wiesmann U & Zemp E (eds) Handbook of transdisciplinary research. Basel: Springer: 3-17• Hollaender K & Leroy P 2001 Reflections on the interactive sessions: From scepticism to good practice. In Klein JT, Grossenbacher-Mansuy W, Häberli R, Bill A, Scholz RW & Welti M (eds) Transdisciplinarity: Joint problem solving amongst science, technology and society. Basel: Barkhauser: 217-235• Hulme M 2011 Meet the humanities. Nature climate change 1(7): 177-179• Lansing JS & Downey SS 2011 Complexity and anthropology. In Hooker C (ed) Handbook of the philosophy of science. Volume 10: Philosophy of complex systems. (General editors: Gabbay DM, Thagard P & Woods J). Amsterdam: Elsevier: 570-601• Mayoux L 2007 Evaluation and impact research for rights-based development: Issues and challenges. Paper presented at the Oxfam America Impact Evaluation Workshop in Lima, Peru on 17-21 September
    35. 35. • Næss P 2010 The dangerous climate of disciplinary tunnel vision. In Bhaskar et al (eds) Interdisciplinarity and climate change: Transforming knowledge and practice for our global future. London: Routledge: 54-84• Nicolescu B (translated by Voss K) 2002 Manifesto of transdisciplinarity. Albany: State University of New York Press• Nicolescu B 2005 Transdisciplinarity: Past, present and future. Presentation to the 2nd World Congress on Transdisciplinarity, 6-12 September in Vila Velha/Vitória, Brasil• Nisbet MC, Hixon MA, Moore KD & Nelson M 2010 Four cultures: New synergies fore engaging society on climate change. Frontiers in ecology and the environment 8: 329-331• Preiser R 2010 Observing representational practices in art and anthropology – a transdisciplinary approach. The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa 6(1): 57-72• Reisinger A 2011 Interdisciplinarity: Are we there yet? Climatic change 108 (1/2): 23-30• Russell AW, Wicksona F & Carew AL 2008 Transdisciplinarity: Context, contradictions and capacity. Futures 40: 460-472• Sillitoe P & Bicker A 2004 Introduction: Hunting for theory, gathering ideology. In Bicker A, Sillitoe P & Pottier J (eds) Development and local knowledge: New approaches to issues in natural resources management, conservation and agriculture. London: Routledge: 1-18• Vogel C, Moser SC, Kasperson RE, Dabelko GD 2007 Linking vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience science to practice: Pathways, players, and partnerships. Global Environmental Change 17: 349-364
    36. 36. This presentation will be available at Fifty shades of evidence – A transdisciplinaryresearch project on changing climate and water by Carina van Rooyen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Connect via Twitter: @carinavr Email:
    37. 37. Extra
    38. 38. Systematic review (SR) • Led by Cochrane Collaboration; routinely used in health care to combine results of RCTs • Integrated into health policy internationally • In development promoted by funders
    39. 39. Elements of a SR• Formulate review question& write protocol to be peer reviewed • Search for and include primary studies Comprehensive strategy to search for relevant studies (unpublished & published) Explicit & justified criteria for inclusion or exclusion of any study • Assess study quality • Extract data • Analyse data Statistical synthesis of data (meta-analysis) if appropriate and possible, or qualitative synthesis • Interpret results & write report that peer reviewed
    40. 40. Hadorn et al (2008:32) distinguishbetween ideal-types ofresearch, namely basic, applied &transdisciplinary research
    41. 41. Source: