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LOST TO THE ANTHROPOCENE?

SEEKING ORIENTATION
ORIENTING TRANSDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH THROUGH CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
How can transdisciplinary research contribute to
culturally robust knowledge within or beyond the
concept of the Anthropocene?

Culturally robust knowledge takes into account ambiguity,


complexity and contradictions as fundamental features of knowledge.
Therefore, it is sensitive to cultural differences and power relations
and serves societal and cultural transformation. Culturally robust
knowledge is constantly challenged.

Reflecting about positionings, differentiation processes,


othering and hybridity part of every research process can
make research topographies visible. Thus, previously
neglected ways of sense-making, world-views, working styles,
practices and power relations can become integral parts of
transdisciplinary research processes.

The problem of integration of cultural life becomes one of making it


possible for people inhabiting different worlds to have a genuine, and
reciprocal, impact upon one another [,] the first step is surely to
accept the depth of the differences; the second to understand what
these differences are; and the third to construct some sort of
vocabulary in which they can be publicly formulated
- Geertz (1983: 161)

Key elements for generating culturally robust


knowledge in transdisciplinary research:

action

dialogue/
polylogue

reflection

(own graphic based on Freire 2000, Wimmer 1996)

From dia-logues (intending mutual understanding) poly-logues


need to be developed, intending mutual convincing on a basis of
commonly agreeable ideas. We can expect that ideas expressed in
such sorts of polylogues will be linguistically and culturally mixed
- Wimmer (1996: 14)

The Anthropocene as a human-dominated, geological epoch


(Crutzen 2002) is a cultural product itself. It refers to an idea of
humankind that can create an illusion of complete knowledge or
optimal regulation. We argue that a constant process of searching
and orienting is a precondition for sustainable development and
we ask the question, what role and agency have humans in the
current era.

Literature
Bhabha, H. K. (1994): The location of culture. Routledge, London, New York
Crutzen, P. J. (2002): Geology of mankind. Nature, Vol. 415 (3): 23
Geertz, C. (1983): The way we think now: Toward an ethnography of modern thought. In: Geertz, C. (Ed.):
Local knowledge: Further essays in interpretive anthropology. Basic Books, New York: 147-163
Wimmer, F. M. (1996): Is intercultural philosophy a new branch or a new orientation in philosophy? URL:
http://homepage.univie.ac.at/franz.martin.wimmer/intpheng95.html (last access: 12.11.14)

Through the concept of cultural difference I want to draw


attention to the common ground and lost territory of contemporary
critical debates. For they all recognize that the problem of the
cultural emerges only at the significatory boundaries of cultures,
where meanings and values are (mis)read or signs are
misappropriated. - Bhabha (1994: 50)

Sustainability researchers are confronted with highly complex


topics, such as global systems, climate change or processes of
globalization. To approach these issues increasingly requires
communication and collaboration on an intercultural level. We
understand culture in a broad sense as dynamic and characterized
by meanings, symbols, values, knowledge, action and materiality.
Thus, scientific disciplines, knowledge fields or societal domains
can all be understood as cultural.
We look on transdisciplinary research as settings of cultural
difference. This broadens the perspective on the actors,
knowledges and practices involved.

Contact
Leuphana University of Luneburg
Center for Methods
Moritz Engbers (moritz.engbers@leuphana.de)
Vera Brandner (vera.brandner@leuphana.de)