Research as Transformative Science: personal highlights from the IST Conference 2016 in Wuppertal

Guest post by Susan Mühlemeier.

This year the annual meeting of the transition community, the International Sustainability Transitions (IST) conference, was hosted by the Wuppertal Institute in Germany from September 6th – 9th, framed by the title: “Exploring transition. Transition as transformative science”.

Under this headline, the conference highlighted both, the state of the art in the more classical transition topics – e.g. governance of transitions, the role of cites, energy and mobility transitions and sustainable economy – as well as the role of experiments, social learning and real world laboratories for transition studies – where the built boundaries between science and society are already passed and the discussion about research as transformative science is already on the go.

On top of the different cross-boundaries reflections in various paper discussions or speed talks, the transformative aspect was also mirrored in the multiple side-events e.g. the excursion to Arrenberg, the Trafo 3.0 or the EnerTransRuhr project presentation).

My personal highlight, the excursion to the urban living lab “Arrenberg” showed us the “the making of” transitions in everyday life. It brought us in contact with various different individual histories and business cases in transitions: e.g. an organist, who bought an old church to sell second-hand pipe organs or an associations which runs a aquaponic farmbox combining aquaculture, horticulture and energy production.

The contact and exchange with the people “making the transition” was also perfectly mirrored by the keynote of Derk Loorbach and Rob Hopkins: They challenged us as scientific audience to think of ourselves as citizens; are we actively engaged in the transition process in our private life and are we (really) aware of the role we play as researchers in this game?

In a nutshell, the role of research in transition processes was questioned on several levels during this conference, thanks to the variety of events the conference that were organised.

A second personal highlight was the attention the organisers paid to the latest activities in the STRN network.  At the Conference Dinner, the current changes in the network governance structure were reported as well as the latest activities of the STRN sub-networks like the TransLACASAF network (Transitions studies in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Africa), as well as our PhDs in Transitions network. Here we had a great opportunity to share our activities with the community and see the other current activities in the STRN network!

Overall, this annual meeting of the transition community provided me with some key questions to further think about in my doctoral project, and exciting exchanges with lovely people with which I will stay in contact. I think this impression generally reflects the atmosphere and the l working mode of the transition community which is especially valuable for me as a PhD!


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