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Finding Balance

The work that I do as an embedded philosopher is an important part of my research interests, but my research interests range far wider. I am committed to working to bring an intersectional perspective to bear in the field of climate justice (e.g., Tuana, 2007, 2019). While this work has certainly had an impact on the work that I do in SCRiM and ViFF, my range of concerns and interests extend beyond those of the grants. In addition to work related to anthropogenic climate change, I publish in a wide range of topics in the field of liberator)' philosophy. Having a wide-ranging portfolio of publications requires various types of juggling. It requires, for example, the ability to write for a number of different audiences and to shift rhetorical styles. It often also demands careful balancing of time and attention. While working on a book on liberatory philosophy (Tuana and Scott forthcoming), I still had to create space and time for the ongoing publications and research collaborations emerging from the grants.

Being part of a research collaboration, particularly at the level of a Co-PI, is a long-term commitment which lasts not only as long as the funding for the grant, but, in many cases, far longer. The SCRiM collaboration is now in the final year of a no-cost extension. Given the amount of time we’ve put into our model of climate risk decision support analysis and given the success of our work, the team has submitted grants to support the application of our tools and skills to the issue of riverine flooding in Pennsylvania. We see this as a way to refine our tools and to do so closer to home than New Orleans or the Menominee Nation. But as coupled epistemic-ethical analyses and values-informed mental models are key signatures of the collaboration, the expectation is that I will continue to work on future projects. Doing so has many positive aspects, but it also means that there are parts of my research portfolio that I will not have as much time to develop. In other words, there are trade-offs.

And, in the midst of these various efforts to find my individual research balance, I have discovered over the years that as an embedded philosopher I am always having to remind the collaborative team to maintain our collective balance so that the scientific gaze does not overlook the philosophic contributions. While the Pls have become skilled in articulating the importance of the work of embedded philosophy, newer colleagues often have to be reminded of the value of this work. And even a seasoned PI can, in the enthusiasm of a new finding and the need for a postdoc or graduate student to publish, forget to bring a coupled epistemic—ethical lens to bear on the work. One of my roles as an embedded philosopher, then, is to regularly ensure the balance of the work of the team.

Paying Attention to Difference

The development of one of our signature tools, values-informed mental models and the ethics coding we created to deploy it, emerged out of attention to differences. One of the projects of the SCRiM grant involved working with partners from RAND4 to improve their efforts to provide resources to the New Orleans Master Plan process through the practice of robust decision-making. Robust decision-making is an analytic framework that works with decisionmakers to identify potential robust strategies, characterize the vulnerabilities of such strategies, and evaluate trade-offs among them ( robust-decision-making.html). The process is iterative, as stakeholder values are a key component of how the trade-offs are characterized. However, if/io is included in the stakeholder group will determine whose values count and whose values might be ignored. We discovered that the range of stakeholders consulted was too narrow to represent the wide range of values perspectives that make up a city like New Orleans. There was the additional issue of future generations whose values preferences might differ from those of current generations. Taking difference into account led us to structure our research in significantly different ways.

But differences are also factors in the ways that we interact with communities. Working with the Menominee Nation, and particularly our efforts to enhance our engagement through ViFF, has transformed the way we think about research partnerships. Honoring indigenous research methods has required a steep learning curve for our team. The time frame of an NSF grant and the time frame of indigenous research methods are often not aligned. The team included a Co-PI from the Menominee Nation, and we developed our project based on earlier interactions through our SCRiM collaborations, but we still did not fully appreciate what was required for our methods to be decolonizing (Smith 2012). Such research, Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012, 198) explains, is “committed to producing research knowledge that documents social injustice, that recovers subjugated knowledges, that helps create spaces for the voices of the silenced to be expressed and ‘listened to,’ and that challenges racism, colonialism and oppression.”

Respecting both the sovereignty and self-determination of the Menominee and fully committing to the value of reciprocity required a level of community participation beyond what we had considered when we wrote the grant. Critical indigenous research methodology includes: (a) tribally-identified research problems; (b) trust established through a positive relationship between tribal members and the ViFF team; (c) tribal oversight for all aspects of the project: and (d) research framed by indigenous theoretical models (Wilson 2008; Kovach 2012; Smith 2012). The pressure of meeting NSF deadlines and the requirements of peer review made each of these components of critical indigenous research difficult to honor. While we have worked over the course of the grant to adjust our plans and our processes, the pressure to publish for the sake of our junior scholars, as well as in light of the expectations of the NSF, is often in direct conflict with the efforts needed to fully engage in indigenous research methods.

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