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Exploring and expanding transdisciplinary research for sustainable and just natural resource management

Margaret G. Wolff, Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Jessica J. Cockburn, Environmental Learning Research Centre, Department of Education, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Chris De Wet, Department of Anthropology, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Joana Carlos Bezerra, Community Engagement Division, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Matthew J. T. Weaver, Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Andiswa Finca, Agricultural Research Council - Animal Production Institute, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa; Dundalk Institute of Technology, Centre for Freshwater and Environmental Studies, Dundalk, Republic of Ireland
Alta De Vos, Department of Environmental Science, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Mateboho M. Ralekhetla, Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Notiswa Libala, Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Qawekazi B. Mkabile, Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Oghenekaro Nelson Odume, Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality, Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa
Carolyn G. Palmer, Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-11077-240414

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Abstract

Transdisciplinarity is gaining acceptance in sustainability science research as an approach to work across disparate types of knowledge and practices in order to tackle complex social-ecological problems. On paper, transdisciplinarity appears to be substantially helpful, but in practice, participants may remain voiceless and disadvantaged. In this paper, we retrospectively investigate four case studies using recent design principles for transdisciplinary research, to explore a deeper understanding of the practical successes and failures of transdisciplinary research engagement. We show that the transdisciplinary way of working is time consuming, challenging, and insists that researchers and participants contribute reflexively. Careful attention to research design and methodology is central. The acceptance that complexity renders knowledge provisional, and complete honesty about the purpose of the research are critical to building relationships between researchers and participants. Gaining an understanding of the values people hold influences the research process and the possible outcomes toward sustainable and just natural resource management. We suggest that in order to enable sustainable and just natural resource management, transdisciplinary research should include values and ethics in the design, implementation, and reporting of projects.

Key words

complex social-ecological systems; ethics; reflexivity; sustainability science; transdisciplinarity; values

Copyright © 2019 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