Main content area

Transdisciplinarity as a real-world challenge: a case study on a North–South collaboration

Schmidt, Laura, Pröpper, Michael
Sustainability science 2017 v.12 no.3 pp. 365-379
case studies, cooperative research, interviews, stakeholders, sustainable land management, Angola, Botswana, Namibia
Transdisciplinarity (TD) has become a buzzword, promoted as a suitable approach to address today’s urgent challenges in human-environment interactions. Looking at its practical implementation, however, challenges still remain to be met. Despite the concept’s popularity, it seems difficult to reconcile the idea of knowledge co-production with research realities. Taking a TD research project dealing with sustainable land management in Southern Africa (Angola, Botswana, and Namibia) as a case study, we aim to provide empirically based insights into the real-world application of this collaborative research approach to improve the general understanding of TD research in the making. Based on semi-structured interviews with project partners and stakeholders, we reveal the underlying interests, mismatching institutions and structures of power shaping the TD research process in this North–South collaboration. We identified TD as falling victim to a kind of “tragedy of the commons”, paralysed between existing power structures and conflicting interests, and being considered as extra work instead of an integral task with an inherent value in itself. By demonstrating some of the underlying causes of the challenging practice of TD, we reveal starting points for changes and provide recommendations that aim to set the base for a more reflexive and fruitful TD knowledge co-production.