Transformative Research

A workshop in São Paulo, Brazil, to discuss new approaches to research in environmental science.

Transformative Research: Interactions between Social Sciences, Humanities and Environmental Science

View the program here, and read a summary of the event here (in Portuguese).

From September 1-3, 2015, the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) will host a workshop that will bring together researchers on Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) and on Environmental Science (ES), to share new approaches to research on the environment. The goal of the workshop is to understand and to enable multi-disciplinary and multi-sector collaboration in this field, and to explore new ways of tackling complex issues and conducting true collaborative research. One of the motivations of the workshop is to find out how such ways can help these two large fields to better cooperate, at an international, transatlantic, level, towards solving problems of scientific, societal and economic relevance.  The workshop aims to understand the unique contributions of social sciences, humanities and environmental science to tackling these large issues, as well as to investigate where collaborative approaches are needed, and how these can be achieved.

The workshop is part of the activities conducted by the Transatlantic Platform for the Social Sciences and Humanities (TA-P). Launched in October 2013, TA-P is a collaboration between 13 key humanities and social science funders in South America, North America and Europe.  The Platform aims to enhance the ability of humanities and social science funders, research organizations and researchers to engage in transnational collaboration.

Experts from 11 countries will discuss how the interactions between SSH and ES researchers are opening new (path)ways to transformative research in the environment, providing innovative solutions to problems. The strengthening of these research interactions is essential — while Environmental science concentrates in investigating environmental problems and working out solutions, these solutions require social, cultural, political and ethical change, and thus the intervention of SSH researchers.

Indeed, approaches to research are undergoing many transformations, prompted by rapid societal, economic and technological changes. Such transformations are being stimulated, among others, by new ways of collecting, processing, analyzing and visualizing data. Research initiatives are taking an increasingly interdisciplinary perspective, involving studies that require analysis of the world at multiple space-and-time scales. These new visions of research are affecting the way theories are formulated, analyses are performed, and research is conducted.

The study of the environment cannot be restricted to natural phenomena, but must also consider human-induced transformations. Research on ecosystems services, sustainable production of food and energy, smart cities or transportation planning, are examples of fields in which there is need of interaction between SSH and ES.

Key questions to be asked are: What role can Social Science and Humanities disciplines play in addressing environmental issues. How can ES researchers benefit from these disciplines? By the same token, how can the latter help SSH research on the environment, by providing distinct perspectives of how to attack these issues to prompt social, cultural, political and ethical changes?

The workshop will explore these ideas along two complementary axes, always keeping in mind the TA-P framework of transatlantic cooperation:

(a)       How new ways of doing SSH research are affecting not only all fields in SSH, but also the ways in which environmental scientists are working. For instance, environmental Social Sciences and Humanities include areas such as environmental sociology, ecolinguistics and environmental philosophy, which study the social and cultural aspects of environmental issues.

(b)       How initiatives in environmental science (e.g., big data studies on global warming) are prompting SSH researchers to rethink research methods and methodology. Examples are new economic models, new ways to value ecosystem services, new methodologies and procedures to perform long-term historical analyses, or of finding out correlations between global warming and changes in agricultural practices (and the consequent social and cultural tensions in rural areas).

Given this framework, the following questions will be debated during the workshop. The ultimate goal is to provide feedback and suggestions to TA-P funding agencies on how to promote and reinforce transatlantic cooperative research on the environment, to solve problems of scientific, social, cultural and economic relevance:

  1. Research on sustainability – Sustainability is an encompassing term that covers a wide range of problems and disciplines, always involving multidisciplinary research, with an increasing demand for interactions between the social sciences, humanities and environmental science. What are some of the pressing challenges in SSH research that need to be investigated, to help provide solutions to some of the environmental problems we face. What are some of the unique contributions of SSH to these solutions?
  2. Methodological gaps and interactions across disciplines – What are the methodological challenges in integrating SSH knowledge on the environment. What methodological approaches in SSH can help environmental scientists, and vice versa? How can they build together new (path)ways to research on the environment?
  3. Mechanisms to foster collaboration between ES and SSH researchers – How can one increase/foster collaboration between SSH and Environmental science researchers, including the establishment of international transatlantic parnerships? How can one help establish the development of joint approaches to conduct research on the environment? What successful local or national mechanisms can be adapted to promote transatlantic collaboration? How can existing cooperations be taken advantage of, and enhanced?