Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology arrow Understanding Society and Natural Resources

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

MAHB's Research Approach

To understand pathways towards sustainability, MAHB specifically adopts an approach of use-inspired/problem-driven research that does not rely on a single discipline or single set of disciplines (e.g. see Clark 2007; NRC 1999). The research is use-inspired, because it aims at a practical application where policy-makers and decision-makers need the science and wish to use it for their policy and decisions. The research is problem-driven in that a practical problem is identified and research is used for tackling that problem, irrespective of the academic origins of the research approaches selected.

An example from MAHB is Hilary Schaffer Boudet's post-doctoral project at Stanford University. The U.S. Department of Energy is interested in how households decide to reduce their household energy use and so they funded a project to contribute toward solving this problem. Boudet and her team developed two curricula for children, based on the tenets of social cognitive theory (Bandura 1986), to teach the advantages and implementation of sustainable energy behavior. The curricula have been tested via a randomized controlled trial with 30 California Girl Scouts to determine their effectiveness in changing behavior. Thus far, results look promising.

Meanwhile, following on from WCED (1987), Burns and Witoszek (2012) outline a humanistic agenda for integrating humanist knowledge into global sustainability research. They provide a baseline for understanding the institutional and cultural barriers to accomplishing more sustainable processes within society. That is the problem driving the research. They also go further, suggesting several steps and strategies which can help to bring humanities concepts into, for instance, resource management in order to improve the economic, education, governance, and culture systems which favor unsustainable approaches. This work demonstrates that largescale societal transformations are one way of effecting behavioral change—as are less dramatic approaches such as viewing society as a learning system where a multitude of small actions can add up to a major difference (Burns 2012).

Where a specific discipline can contribute to such research, its theories, literature, and methodologies are applied—and mixed with other disciplines to build on each discipline's strengths while shoring up any limitations. This research is not just for the pursuit of new knowledge, but is also about catalyzing and creating appropriate action based on the sound scientific knowledge produced. The focus of MAHB is not to displace other disciplines with social sciences and humanities inputs, nor is it to make social science and humanities inputs dominate. Instead, it is to ensure that all disciplinary voices, as well as inter-disciplinary voices, are heard and that they work together with mutual respect.

MAHB creates the space whereby such interaction can occur. By signing up to MAHB's mission, members accept the need for working with other disciplines. By attending a MAHB workshop, members accept that different disciplinary perspectives and approaches need to be respected, while also pushing themselves to think beyond specific disciplines. For example, at a MAHB workshop in Sweden in 2010 on risk, discussions ranged across different interpretations and understandings of risk in order to compare various disciplinary perspectives without becoming entrapped by one. One aim was to compile methods for influencing people's riskrelated behavior in order to inform risk reduction policy and practice.

The space created by MAHB for dialogue amongst all disciplines is furthermore about encouraging scientists to interact with policy and decision-makers. That means that policy and decision-makers understand more about the scientific process. Meanwhile, scientists are encouraged to work with policy and decision-makers to produce science that can be used. Ehrlich, for instance, started his policy in fluencing career with The Population Bomb (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1968) and continues to discuss the population-resource nexus with policy makers, highlighting that the sustainability challenges, according to him, are population, overconsumption, and inequality.

Ensuring this two-way exchange has various precedents, such as 'people's science' (Wisner et al. 1977) and 'useable science' (Glantz et al. 1990). Too often, science is seen as a linear process whereby knowledge is produced and then it might or might not be sent to policyand decision-makers in a form which the policy and decision-makers might or might not be able to use. Among many others, Martin (1979) undercuts the myth of the objectivity of physical science results, using pollution and resource examples. One consequence is that environmental science cannot be assumed to stand alone from its policy and decision arena. MAHB therefore brings together the scientific and application arenas by focusing on a problem which parties wish to solve, recognizing that different skills and knowledge bases are needed to solve the problem and to use the results. That improves over many past endeavors, supporting better social science integration, because policyand decision-makers are involved from the beginning—usually helping to define the problem to be solved—and by avoiding one discipline dominating others.

An example is Bob Horn's work with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development described earlier (WBCSD 2010). Because the business strategists were involved from the beginning and helped to define the problem to be tackled along with the tasks, they had an incentive to complete the work fully and then to consider how to apply the results for themselves. An added advantage is that the policyand decision-makers involved gain an indication of the intricacies and uncertainties of scientific investigation, while educating scientists about the needs of the policyand decision-makers.

The key area highlighted by MAHB for social science integration in the context of resource and sustainability challenges is showing how social science and humanities research draws attention to behavioral influences other than economic and technological considerations and framings. The latter often dominate discussions and assumptions regarding sustainability-related decisions, leading to the state of the world witnessed today. That does not denigrate the importance of material and economic interests, especially since they often operate in tandem with cultural and institutional factors. Indeed, the effectiveness of many economic incentives and technical innovations first requires major behavioral changes.

But moving beyond purely economic and technological considerations means recognizing that social sciences and humanities have much more to offer than understanding human behavior and perceptions to increase the uptake of advertised products (e.g. Mela et al. 1997) or indicating how people respond to economic incentives for risk reducing behavior (Kane et al. 2004). MAHB's framing and research approach treats the cause of the lack of sustainability (human behavior) rather than the symptoms (the physical indicators of resource depletion and environmental contamination). This does not denigrate or eliminate the past work or other framings. It builds on them, embraces them, and uses them as a springboard to understand more about the underlying drivers of poor sustainability related behavior.

One example of needed behavioral change is travelling less in order to save energy. For example, using e-based (e.g. skype) meetings, learning, and conferences tends to save money, is more environmentally friendly than travelling, and is becoming increasingly easier due to technological developments. It does, though, require users to accept that forum of interaction rather than the expectation of more personal face-to-face approaches.

Much of that acceptance or rejection is cultural and people have different levels of comfort for “Personal connections in the digital age” (the title of Baym 2010). Shea (2005) points out that informing and dealing with climate change in the Pacific islands requires “Establishing and sustaining 'eyeball-to-eyeball' contact” (p. 4). That is notwithstanding the PEACESAT operation which, for over three decades while based in Honolulu, has used remote education through video and then the internet for training and education on development and sustainability topics, including climate change adaptation and resource management. No studies have yet examined the elements of PEACESAT which build up long-distance trust and credibility, compared to the cultural desire for the “eyeball-to-eyeball” contact. Understanding these dimensions of human behavior with respect to sustainability would be a research and application project directly in line with MAHB's aims and approach.

 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics