'Laboratories' for advancing and studying public formations in sustainable development
Van Breda, John
Transdisciplinary Sustainability Analysis Modelling and Assessment HUB Stellenbosch University Matieland, South Africa
Institute for Environmental Decisions, Natural and Social Science Interface ETH Zurich Zurich, Switzerland
Considering public involvement in science and societal decision making, implies a thorough and critical reflection of the issue at stake, as issues do largely determine what 'the public' is, i.e. how and what public is formed by the respective framing of the issue. Our considerations presented in this paper depart from the Transdisciplinary Case Study (TdCS) design as an applied research framework. The term transdisciplinary refers in our understanding to a form of knowledge production that complements existing disciplinary and interdisciplinary scientific activities by integrating stakeholders from outside academia in addressing concrete issues related to sustainable development. In these studies, we start from the case, i.e. not from a problem, but from a geographical entity where the relevant issues to be tackled are jointly defined by academia and stakeholders from the region. As such the TdCS is an integral part of 'constructing different publics', i.e. offering different ways of framing the issue and thereby contributing to different assemblages of distinct issue understandings and respective publics. Such public formations are often going 'beyond' many boundaries, like institutional; sectoral; national; and cultural. Coming together with other actors and being challenged by multi-dimensional cases, scientists are not only engaged in looking for real-world solutions, but are as well constructing 'laboratories' for advancing and studying new public formations and their consequence for the status quo of the nation-state European Society. This very fact raises some questions that we would like to address in our presentation: how do we approach (with our TdCS interventions) problems that have not necessarily become 'res publicae' as yet? How do we know whether a public(s) has in fact been formed? Is this formation a pre-condition for methodological interventions such as TdCS? Where public formations are found to be underway, can we conclude that the different nation-state boundaries are indeed in the process of being transgressed and re-drawn? We argue that scientists as the facilitators of and actors in similar public involvement processes cannot afford to miss these developments. In other words, it means having to develop extra pairs of eyes to read / interpret this unfolding situation.