Graduate students navigating social-ecological research: insights from the Long-Term Ecological Research Network

Very insightful and helpful paper for graduating students navigating social-ecological systems research, from a graduate student perspective! Hot off the press here:

BY: Sydne Record , Paige F. B. Ferguson , Elise Benveniste , Rose A. Graves , Vera W. Pfeiffer , Michele Romolini,  Christie E. Yorke, Ben Beardmore 

Abstract: Interdisciplinary, collaborative research capable of capturing the feedbacks between biophysical and social systems can improve the capacity for sustainable environmental decision making. Networks of researchers provide unique opportunities to foster social-ecological inquiry. Although insights into interdisciplinary research have been discussed elsewhere, they rarely address the role of networks and often come from the perspectives of more senior scientists. We have provided graduate student perspectives on interdisciplinary degree paths from within the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network. Focusing on data from a survey of graduate students in the LTER Network and four self-identified successful graduate student research experiences, we examined the importance of funding, pedagogy, research design and development, communication, networking, and culture and attitude to students pursuing social-ecological research. Through sharing insights from successful graduate student approaches to social-ecological research within the LTER Network, we hope to facilitate dialogue between students, faculty, and networks to improve training for interdisciplinary scientists.


Invasive narratives

By Simon West

As inter-disciplinary scientists, how do we tell ‘catchy’ narratives about environmental change that stimulate policy action while also opening up for complex understandings?

A new paper in the journal Environmental Humanitieswritten with colleagues from the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory in Stockholm and the University of Cape Town, South Africa, explores this question in relation to so-called ‘invasive alien species.’

ABSTRACT Environmental narratives have become an increasingly important area of study in the environmental humanities. Rob Nixon has drawn attention to the difficulties of representing the complex processes of environmental change that inflict ‘slow violence’ on vulnerable human (and non-human) populations. Nixon argues that a lack of “arresting stories, images and symbols” reduces the visibility of gradual problems such as biodiversity loss, climate change and chemical pollution in cultural imaginations and on political agendas. We agree with Nixon that addressing this representational imbalance is an important mission for the environmental humanities. However, we argue that another aspect of the same imbalance, or representational bias, suggests the inverse of this is also needed—to unpack the ways that complicated and multifaceted environmental phenomena can be reduced to fast, simple, evocative, invasive narratives that percolate through science, legislation, policy and civic action, and to examine how these narratives can drown out rather than open up possibilities for novel social-ecological engagements. In this article we demonstrate the idea of invasive narratives through a case study of the ‘invasive alien species’ (IAS) narrative in South Africa. We suggest that IAS reduces complex webs of ecological, biological, economic, and cultural relations to a simple ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ battle between easily discernible ‘natural’ and ‘non- natural’ identities. We argue that this narrative obstructs the options available to citizens, land managers and policy-makers and prevents a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics and implications of biodiversity change, in South Africa and beyond.


Full paper available here.