Graduate students (and postdocs) at IRI THESys and advanced MA students that conduct human-environment research. This course is strongly recommended for all graduate students independent of their disciplinary background and project. In fact, if you are thinking ‘I’m only doing X. This seems a waste of my time.’, this course is compulsory for you. If you are an MA student in anthropology, geography or elsewhere and you are getting into human-environment research in your final year project, don’t feel intimated by graduate and post-doc presence: come and join us.
Human|Environment Research engages ‘the world out there’ in multiple ways through: interacting with the world in field research; rendering the world knowable through data; representing the world in numbers or narratives; publishing scientific results about the world with stark normative implications for the world; or engaging the world as a scientist or citizen.
This is what makes Human|Environment Research so exciting and, for many of us, this is why we are doing it. We tend to think of ourselves as the good guys, because we stand for sustainability. Yet scientific knowledge production is all about organizing scepticism. So whether we are modelling the global movement of carbon dioxide molecules, assessing ecosystems in South America, interpreting the lived experiences of subsistence farmers in West Africa, are following Bananas through Asian forests and plantations or are tracking land use changes in Brandenburg: We need to appreciate that the way we know the world changes the world. This turns our decisions how to attempt to know this world into profoundly political and ethical decisions.
“Am I doing the right thing with and in my project?” can be a daunting question. It reaches from the practical “Do I really need to get my project through an ethics board? I am only doing a bit of this and that!” to the deeply existential “What the hell am I doing with a questionnaire in one of the world’s poorest countries?”
This course helps you to be prepared for these questions. For most of them, we cannot provide answers – certainly not easy ones. We can, however, put you in touch with the literature, with experienced researchers and with each other to clarify what is at stake, understand how others have addressed these issues and help you find answers that you feel confident are bearable for you and those concerned by your work.
The goal of this course is to help you become a humble and careful researcher, i.e. someone who understands at all stages of the research process what is at stake and someone who has considered and weighed alternatives. At IRI THESys, we believe that this is an integral part of good science and good Human|Environment Research.
The course comprises four sections. We will spend a half-day on each bringing together key reading with discussions about your own projects and inputs from experienced members of the IRI THESys community. We hope that this course will be a living archive of research conducted at IRI THESys and that it will learn and develop.