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Finding an academic space: reflexivity among sustainability researchers

Åsa Knaggård, Department of Political Science, Lund University; Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability (LUCID), Lund University
Barry Ness, Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability (LUCID), Lund University; Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), Lund University
David Harnesk, Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), Lund University; Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability (LUCID), Lund University

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10505-230420

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Abstract

Reflexivity is arguably an important aspect of doing sustainability research. The inter- and transdisciplinary character of sustainability research, as well as its change-oriented agenda, require scholars to reflect on their role as researchers, their research focus and methodology, and its relation to academia and society. Using focus groups with 15 researchers at different stages in their academic career, we investigate three forms of reflexivity, i.e., personal, functional, and disciplinary, for sustainability researchers connected to the LUCID (Lund University Centre of Excellence for the Integration of the Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability) program experience. We further study similarities and differences in how the researchers experience reflexivity connected to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches. We find that sustainability researchers experience all three forms of reflexivity. In particular, they are highly reflexive about how research on sustainability issues is dependent on theoretical pluralism; how research can contribute to the transformation of society; and how they, as inter- and transdisciplinary researchers, can construct a space for themselves within the academic system. We also find that transdisciplinary approaches make scholars add a layer of reflexivity to the three categories studied, concerning collaboration beyond academia. Finally, we find that reflexivity about these issues seems to be crucial for how sustainability researchers construct a space for themselves within the academic system. PhD graduates from the LUCID program are deeply reflexive about the function of academic boundaries. It is this awareness that enables them to construct an academic identity entirely beyond boundaries. This result has important implications for PhD programs focused toward sustainability issues, in terms of a need to provide opportunities for PhD students to develop reflexivity.

Key words

interdisciplinarity; reflexivity; sustainability research; transdisciplinarity

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087