New Article in Print

Global change science has become more international in scope and transdisciplinary in nature, in response to the social expectation that scientific knowledge should inform collective action and our ability to cope with a warming world. How do we integrate knowledge to catalyze action, not only across scales of analysis, but across diverse cultures, social and political differences, and human geographies ?

In this article, published in Science, Technology, & Human Values (the flagship journal of 4S, the Society for the Social Study of Science), we move past idealized models of the science–policy interface (i.e. the "linear model") to examine the geopolitical dynamics of knowledge mobilization. We explore how the science-policy interface as a human ecosystem, including how works on the ground, in diverse settings and cultures, across the Américas.

While this paper is an outgrowth of my Fulbright NEXUS collaboration with scholars from across the hemisphere (Nicole Klenk in Canada and Fabián Mendez in Colombia), the NEXUS research directly inspired the goals and content of the Knowledge Integration project. What analysis of the NEXUS reveals, echoed in the bones of our current project, is that geopolitical asymmetries and friction cannot easy be scrubbed out of international, interdisciplinary collaborations. They must be navigated--and that requires a personal skillset that does not come easily.

Read more about it here! If you cannot access the article, please email Katie Meehan (meehan@uoregon.edu) for a PDF copy.

-Katie Meehan

Image (above): Sakurako Gibo, California College of the Arts (CCA). Inspired by soil science, the image depicts a theoretical assemblage of soil microbes with different morphologies (for instance round spores versus string-like mycelia).

Media Coverage of KI Project

Around the O, the University of Oregon's media organ (I love that word, "organ"), produced a nice little story last year about our NSF-funded Knowledge Integration Project. (In their words, "Around the O is the UO’s go-to place for information about the university, its people and the difference they make in Oregon and around the world.") Writer Emily Halnon is a skilled wordsmith and deftly captured the heart of our research ambitions.

Read the full article here. A few of my favorite excerpts:

  • Meehan wants to understand how international partnerships function and how the scientific community could do interdisciplinary research better. To investigate this question, she will examine how scientists from different places and backdrops collaborate on environmental research and how they might be able to more effectively integrate knowledge across borders. “We want to understand how different people stitch knowledge together across cultures, backgrounds, borders, disciplines and between people who work on different scales of analysis, from microbiomes to ecosystems,” Meehan said.
  • [Meehan] said many researchers are looking for a formulaic approach to international and interdisciplinary collaboration, but she expects the dynamic nature of the partnerships will prevent her from identifying a single formula for collaboration.
  • Meehan looks at the project as a study into how people work, which helps explain why it’s unlikely she will produce a one-size-fits-all recipe to apply to scientific partnerships. Humans are complex ingredients and she suspects her observations in the United States and Brazil might mirror some of what she saw during the Fulbright project in Latin America, when qualities like empathy and relationship-building were so key to successful teamwork.
  • “Some people are desperate for a recipe for interdisciplinary science collaboration,” she [Meehan] explained. “We are still just beginning the research, but I suspect our observations might point to the importance of negotiations, empathy and other complex skills that diverge from a formulaic strategy.”

 

Local Knowledge is Not a Pot of Gold

How do we know that the world is changing around us? What can place-based knowledge tell us about climates, past and future? Can we use that knowledge for good, not evil?

'Local' knowledge—an umbrella category for traditional, tacit, indigenous, and ‘uncertified’ expertise—is often viewed by science groups (like the IPCC) as vital for crafting effective and appropriate solutions to the world’s wicked problems—like climate change.

At the same time, local knowledge is slippery: it hinges differently across place and time. Local knowledge may be at odds with scientific and technological goals of universal knowledge and progress. In 'extracting' local knowledge from the context of its production, experts may break the ties that bind such knowledge to the materiality of its place—including local governance arrangements and sociotechnical practices. Extraction may do more violence than good.

In a recent article, authored by our Fulbright NEXUS team and published in WIREs Climate Change, we make the point that local knowledge is not a pot of gold, awaiting discovery at the end of the proverbial rainbow. In reviewing the field, we combed through literature in climate adaptation science and took stock of common trends, patterns, and ideas about local knowledge. Drawing on theory in science and technology studies (STS), we move away from the extractionist approach—still so common in science—and toward a compositionalist theory of local knowledge. This shift, we argue, calls for an end to ‘mining’ local knowledge to reinforce climate governance regimes.

Moved to read more? The article is now available on the WIREs Climate Change website; or email Katie Meehan for a copy.  

 This graph charts the explosion of publications citing 'local knowledge' in climate change adaptation research. Prior to 2010, only 10 articles were published about this topic--the same number of articles published in the first quarter (January-March) of 2015 alone.

This graph charts the explosion of publications citing 'local knowledge' in climate change adaptation research. Prior to 2010, only 10 articles were published about this topic--the same number of articles published in the first quarter (January-March) of 2015 alone.

We’re Hiring!

Are you a prospective PhD student interested in science studies and the politics of environmental knowledge? Dr. Katie Meehan is seeking to hire a new graduate research assistant (GRA) to work on the NSF-funded Knowledge Integration Project.

The ideal candidate has strong interests in political ecology, science and technology studies (STS), and environmental politics in Latin America, especially Brazil. Requirements include (1) a master’s degree, in Geography, STS, or a relevant area; (2) experience with qualitative research; (3) field or work experience in Latin America. Language skills in Portuguese and field experience in the Amazon are highly desirable, but not required.

Specific GRA responsibilities will include: 1) preparing and administering a visual Q-method survey, an image-based qualitative technique; 2) analyzing qualitative data and reporting the results; 3) assisting Dr. Meehan with project-related activities, such as the public art/science exhibit. The GRA will gain skills in Q method, survey design, qualitative data analysis, academic writing, and project management.

The GRA position is for one year (starting Fall 2018) and provides an annual stipend, health insurance, and tuition waiver. Upon admission to the graduate program, the Geography department provides select, highly competitive applicants with up to 3-4 years of additional funding, typically as a teaching assistant or instructor.

The Department of Geography at the University of Oregon is top-ranked program with strengths in critical human geography, biophysical geography, spatial data science, and political ecology. We are located in Eugene, Oregon, a weird but lovable town situated between the Cascade Mountains and Pacific Coast.

Interested in this position? Prior to formal application (due January 15, 2018) to the Geography program, prospective applicants should send a brief letter of interest and CV (including GPA and GRE scores) to Dr. Katie Meehan (meehan@uoregon.edu). Thanks!