Twelve new international, interdisciplinary research projects on transformations to sustainability, jointly funded by the Belmont Forum, NORFACE and the International Science Council, were formally presented in a session at the World Social Science Forum in Fukuoka, Japan, on 26 September 2018.
In a keynote address to the projects, Professor Melissa Leach, Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK, stressed that questions of equity, fairness and justice must be integral to any discussion on sustainability and that the contribution of the social sciences and humanities is vital in this regard. Not only can the social sciences and humanities use their insights to challenge assumptions about technical or technocratic solutions, they must also help to focus attention on power relations in any struggle over sustainability.
The twelve projects rose easily to the challenge, presenting research plans with a strong focus on empowering communities and civil society to reframe dominant narratives and conceptualizations of problems and solutions, in a wide range of sustainability challenge domains and settings: from human–wildlife interaction and water governance to artisanal gold mining, migration and intellectual property rights. As Leach remarked in her synthesis on the session, all of the twelve projects are explicitly ‘normative’ – they all seek to challenge dominant models and power relations and to bring diverse understandings and concerns to bear in their respective problem fields.
Melissa Leach nevertheless pointed to some of the major practical and political challenges and risks facing researchers who want to do this kind of work – challenges that range from the lack of institutional support and recognition for inter- and transdisciplinary research, to the complexity of engaged, transdisciplinary approaches, to the sheer danger involved in challenging incumbent power in its many forms. One thing all the projects will need to do is to find ways to turn these challenges and risks into opportunities.
The panel of 18 researchers were confident of the potential of their projects to make an exciting and significant contribution to knowledge; one of their common ambitions is to help change perspectives on what science is and how it is done.
The ISC is coordinating the knowledge exchange and communication activities for the 12 new projects on behalf of the Belmont Forum and NORFACE partners in the Transformations to Sustainability programme. The ISC is funding researchers in low- and lower-middle-income countries to participate in the funded projects, with the financial support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Download Melissa Leach’s keynote address to the new Belmont Forum-NORFACE T2S projects: Understanding and encouraging transformations to sustainability.