Accepted Paper:

Producing 'relevant knowledge' in transdisciplinary sustainability research - Researchers' sense-making of and coping with 'epistemic commitments' in heterogeneous projects  


Andrea Schikowitz (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates how researchers in a transdisciplinary research program make sense out of their ‘epistemic commitments’ and reconcile them with other understandings of ‘relevant knowledge’ they encounter in heterogeneous teams.

Paper long abstract:

What knowledge is needed for approaching challenges like climate change or loss of natural resources has been debated since more than twenty years. Policy makers and scholars alike, claim that such knowledge should be 'integrative'. It should include societal concerns and values, transgress disciplinary boundaries, and include local and practice relevant knowledge. Yet, the success of initiatives and programs that promise such a radical transformation of knowledge production seems to be limited. Instead of more inclusive science-society relations, what could be termed 'managerial research governance' has become hegemonic. Competition and specialised output-orientation in terms of individual publication records are constitutive for contemporary knowledge production, rather than knowledge production as a joint process of mutual learning.

Against this backdrop, this paper investigates what social and epistemic effects initiatives for 'integrative knowledge' might trigger. Analysing a major Austrian research program for transdisciplinary sustainability research, I look at the interplay between research governance and researchers' sense-making in research practice. The researchers who engage in transdisciplinary projects need to make transdisciplinarity do-able in their specific situations. I analyse how researchers re-negotiate their 'epistemic commitments' (Granjou and Arpin, 2015) and reconcile them with other understandings of 'relevant knowledge' they encounter in transdisciplinary research - the requirements of the program, the diverse knowledge demands that different actors carry into research, and the kinds of knowledge that are valued within scientific disciplines - and that researchers need to secure their career and position within science.

Panel T073
Epistemic Regimes - Reconfiguring epistemic quality and the reconstitution of epistemic authority