POLLEN20 Call for workshop participants – Challenges of critical knowledge production for a transformation: perspectives and experiences

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Workshop organizers

If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please contact the organizers Judith Bopp (bopp@geographie.uni-kiel.de) and Jonas Hein (hein@geographie.uni-kiel.de).

Workshop description

Working at the interface of knowledge production requires critical reflection on how to engage or not to engage with powerful actors to bring issues of environmental injustice on political agendas. How to collaborate with political or governmental bodies, or whether at all, is a critical and legitimate question raised among political ecologists. First, existing power structures within governments and the strong influence of corporate actors create risks of co-optation. Second, as Tania Li (2007) raised in “The Will to Improve”, expert engagement has a long and troubled history.

The SDG agenda, the Paris Agreement and recently the Friday’s for Future movement demand radical structural transformations. Transformation is the “new buzzword” (Blythe et al., 2018) across disciplines and ideologies. Transdisciplinarity is considered a necessary ingredient of transformative action, which is appropriated in rather radical Degrowth, post development, and alternatives-to-development approaches, as well as in “domesticated” programs and approaches such as the SDG agenda (Escobar, 2015). The growing field of sustainability science, in particular, builds on the assumption that transdisciplinary approaches provide more legitimate “solution options” (Lang et al., 2012).

In the context of the current boom in transformative research, prefigurative politics, the spread of fake news and fake science, and increasingly vocal demands raised by Fridays for Future and others that governments should follow science to avoid the climate catastrophe, we argue that it is imperative to (re-)discuss the role of science in politics and to politicize transformative research.

This workshop invites scholars and practitioners (governmental and non-governmental) with experience with critical knowledge production to participate in an exchange on the theme of ‘knowing, politicising and doing transformation‘. The session aims at elaborating possibilities of transfer of knowledge and skills, and concrete communication strategies. As such, the workshop provides a transdisciplinary discussion and skill-sharing forum. A further goal is to jointly develop a perspectives paper or a policy brief based on the workshop discussions.

The three-hour workshop will be limited to 20-25 participants. In addition, we will connect through online videocall with a number of experts from Colombia, Germany, India, Indonesia and Kiribati. The workshop will be structured into three phases:

  1. In-depth skill and experiences sharing through round table discussion / 3-4 world cafés
  2. Condensation and contextualisation of shared skills in forum
  3. Documentation of shared experiences in groups and wrap-up


Blythe, J. et al. (2018). The dark side of transformation: Latent risks in contemporary sustainability discourse. Antipode50(5), 1206-1223.

Escobar, A. (2015). Degrowth, postdevelopment, and transitions: a preliminary conversation. Sustainability Science10(3), 451-462

Lang, D. J. et al. (2012). Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability science7(1), 25-43.

Li, T. M. (2007). The will to improve. Duke University Press.