Social science at work on the world

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Chapter 2 Theoretical perspectives: positioning enactive social science

Engagement with a thinker and her/his concepts, responses to an event, and the encounter with an empirical site or question are just some of the ways in which [we can] work with, experiment and make assemblage into an object of reflection. In this context legislating between uses gives way to affirming the vitality that follows from connecting a term to diverse problems, theories, sites and questions. What emerges is an ethic of theory-as-assemblage, i.e. as a constellation of singularities that holds together through difference rather than in spite of it, and that cultivates a provocative and fertile common ground (McFarlane & Anderson, 2011, p. 164).
Colin McFarlane and Ben Anderson wrote the above statement in a special edition of Area (2011) focused on Assemblage and Geography. Inspired by this ethic of theory as assemblage, this chapter presents a constellation of ideas, heuristics, and approaches to theorising knowledge and action. Concepts of spaces, traces, assemblages, co-production of knowledge, co-learning, social science, sustainable development, knowledge, and agency are all worked with to highlight the material and discursive contexts of this dissertation. These reflections elaborate the logics of analysis for the dissertation. More importantly, these terms are observed together, then juxtaposed and contrasted with the intention of positioning an enactive social science, undertaking epistemological and ontological work.

 A goal: to cultivate the becoming of a refreshed social science

The goal for this thesis research was to experiment with theories, ideas, relationships, and conversations that would assist the generation of alternative development pathways for New Zealand’s people and environments. This was a response to knowledge-making that re-inscribes dominant binary and dichotomising representations of the world. I sought to avoid closing down the possibilities for sustainable development to a ‘this or that’, but rather to find the ‘and, and, and’, of sustainable development known and made otherwise. The challenge was to participate in the enlivening of social science so that the politics of development could be more intentionally navigated.
Cultivating the becoming of a refreshed social science requires more than representation of the doing of social science and sustainable development. Practising different ways of knowing about the work of social science and sustainable development enabled me not only to describe how the production of knowledge is changing, but also to develop capabilities to influence these changes in the moments and rooms in which they were occurring around me.
As such, this dissertation responds to the depiction of the shift from Mode 1 (conventional) knowledge production to Mode 2 (distributed) knowledge production, developed by Gibbons et al. (1994). These authors argue that Mode 1 has become the mode of production characteristic of disciplinary research institutionalised largely in universities and Mode 2 is the trans-disciplinary approaches institutionalised in a more heterogeneous, flexible, and socially distributed system. Their account of shifts in knowledge production usefully illustrates relationships between research and the creation of supply and demand. Gibbons et al. (1994) show how knowledge creates comparative advantages for companies while at the same time acting as a commodity, commercialised and positioned within and across internationalised markets.
This dissertation illustrates reflexive responses to accounts of shifting modes of knowledge production. Empirical stories are presented of how capabilities for acting were constrained and expanded through the distributed knowledge production systems Gibbons et al. (1994) described. We glimpse how the heuristic of Mode 1 and 2 knowledge production became performative in New Zealand. By focusing on what social science was becoming through a New Zealand science organisation it is also possible to show how the categories of carbon, streams, and networks were becoming actors in the knowledge production system, also co-producing socialities.

 Assembling theory, enacting social knowledge through spaces of co-learning

To begin a conversation about the ‘co-production of social science and sustainable development’ this dissertation takes a route via the idea of ‘spaces of co-learning’. This route was taken due to the discursive and material possibilities it offered for enactive social science addressing the practices, institutions, and discourses of sustainable development. Spaces of co-learning (both material and discursive) were explored by drawing on the intellectual, political and inter-personal resources to hand situated between the University of Auckland’s School of the Environment and the collaborative learning group at Landcare Research, a New Zealand science organisation mandated to contribute to sustainable land development.
I encountered ‘spaces of co-learning’ as intentionally collaborative efforts for making knowledge and taking action. Through these spaces a sense (Deleuze & Harrison, 2000) was expressed of inter-relatedness, difference, and alternative ‘doings’. Being attentive to how these ‘spaces of co-learning’ shaped social science and the production of social knowledge has focused this dissertation on the identities, institutional arrangements, and actors emerging from the problematic of ‘social science for sustainable development’.
The notion of spaces infers lively dynamism, an opening through which things travel and emerge, for example, money, activities, ideas, roles, political rationalities, and an enthusiastic social scientist. Much has been written about the importance of the work of the heuristic of space. My reading on this topic focused on the ways Massey (2005), Amin and Thrift (2000), and Whatmore (2002) addressed the multiple trajectories through which spaces of knowledge and action are co-constituted. Key to my argument is the idea that through spaces of knowledge-practice multiple processes of knowledge and power are assembled. Understood as assemblage, knowledge and practice can be known as co-constituted, and we find that contrary to most theories of knowledge they are not fixed to times, places, scales or identities. Indeed these elements, time, scale, and identity are themselves all co-produced and contingent on each other; they are, as Nietzsche (1956) presented, all becoming in relation to each other. So, how we know and learn about a place or a person or a thing shapes how I, we, and that person, place or thing is becoming – how it and we can act in the world. Explanatory power is gained by revealing the relationships between the knowing and doing of identities, scale, and places – the spaces of knowledge-practice (Massey, 2005). And with practice, I found the heuristic of ‘spaces of co-learning’ did indeed help to understand and make visible trajectories through which knowledge, practices, identities and discourses were being made, legitimated and resourced.
To support use of the term ‘spaces of co-learning’ ideas about and practices making science and society relationships were explored as being assembled variously over times and places. Deleuze and Guattari (1983) deploy the term assemblage to make visible territories, or spaces, made up of various heterogeneous fragments. This territory embodies patterns and routines, and has both content and expression. Furthermore, Deleuze and Guattari (1994) suggested that experience exceeds our concepts by presenting novelty, and this experience of difference actualizes an idea, unrestrained by prior categories, forcing us to invent new ways of thinking and doing.
Accordingly, instead of asking questions of identity such as ‘is it true?’ or ‘what is it?’ Deleuze encourages us to inquire about the functional or practical characteristic of a concept: ‘what does it do?’ or ‘how does it work?’ Hence this dissertation began by asking ‘what were spaces of co-learning for sustainable development doing? How were they assembled, and who was at work through them? What were social science and sustainable development becoming through these spaces?
This entry point is partly a response to other points of entry that would typically have begun by positing the focus of analysis as a fixed notion of sustainable development (for example weak-strong, or provision for future generations) and then ask about possible contributions of social science as a separate concept and process to this external goal. These entry points would have asked questions of how research builds social capital; or what is best practice for interdisciplinary research; or how community resilience is built; or what social networks enable transformation towards sustainable development. But as shown by this dissertation, selecting the unit of analysis influences the ontological work that can be done. It required sensitivity to how the unit of analysis for this dissertation was getting stuck in time, place, and beings. Sensitivity was achieved by exploring the category social science and catching glimpses of what social science was doing. It was necessary to reflect on my day to day work to attune myself to the ways social science was being named, when, where, how, and for what purposes.

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 What constitutes a unit of analysis?

Multiplicity, contingency, and processes of co-constitution are discussed in this thesis through use of the descriptive power of core geographical concepts of situating, trajectories, traces, spaces, and boundaries. One of the first issues we encounter is the ever converging–diverging pathways and sites through which the unit of analysis, social science, has emerged. As will be illustrated time and again in the following chapters this thing social science in all its discursive and material forms, which I claim is of great importance to how New Zealand society develops, is not tightly codified and thus does not take on the same solid bounded form in every context.
Social science appeared in Landcare Research through a number of pathways. Social science was blown in with the New Zealand high country tussock seeds1; social science was precipitated by poor water quality in catchments2; and social science was designed in alongside composting toilets and rain gardens3. These trajectories of knowledge-practice created spaces for social science in Landcare Research’s budgets, offices, annual plans, tea rooms, and funding applications. But each of these trajectories shaped the space and form of social science in different ways for different purposes, and in turn social science has shaped the tussocks, catchments, and sustainable buildings in a variety of unpredicted ways. But before relaying those stories, this chapter pauses temporarily to put boundaries to, or limit the scope of my unit of analysis social science in order to provide a sense of what is not covered in my analysis. But please note, these boundaries will be lost, challenged, and remade at various points in the thesis.

 Social science as a unit of analysis for sustainable development

Although informed by the work of Science and Technology Studies (S&TS) (Hackett, 2008; Jasanoff, Markle, Petersen & Pinch, 1995) this thesis is not a typical S&TS project. This dissertation does not take as its main focus how biophysical sciences are shaping worlds, or indeed even the overarching category of science. Instead, I have paid specific attention to the work of social science in a science organisation addressing sustainable development. Therefore attention is not given to the specific practices of biophysical science projects but have focused on the performances, or the work of social science in the science context. Put another way, I have examined the intellectual and strategic project of representing and influencing the socialities of the environment, science, and development. This is very much the concern of S&TS and is the work the co-production idiom (Jasanoff, 2004) makes possible. By exploring the co-production of science, social science, and sustainable development the dissertation addresses the situations and politics distinguishing science from social science, and a Scientist from a Social Scientist. Nature and society kept getting separated through these representational practices, but there are indeed spaces through which less bifocal worlds are becoming (Latour, 2004a, b & 1993).
Between 2004 and 2012 a greater diversity of practices emerged through which socio-environmental knowledges were legitimised and enacted. This created broader engagement in society with social theories and a pragmatic incorporation of social science in environmental management. Discourses of sustainable development, growth and innovation, participatory democracy, integrated planning, and climate change materialised in many ways, including through network meetings, catchment planning and integrated research.
For many doing social science in this field it was a frustrating yet intellectually stimulating time as the territory that could be social research was articulated and rearticulated. Amid more reflexive, relationally oriented ways of governing, how to be a (social) researcher became an increasingly important question, for me, the individuals involved and their organisations, as well as for society as a whole. Central to this question was how those doing social science participate in constituting nature-society relations. This thesis reveals a few of these performances and possibilities by addressing the questions:
•How were social science and sustainable development co-produced?
•What was social science becoming through the co-production of knowledge and sustainable development?

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 Methodologies shape possibilities of development

Geographers address the fracturing of nature-society in numerous ways. The literature already discussed above plus Gibson-Graham (1996, 2011), Harvey (1996), Le Heron (2009, 2013), Massey (2003), Thrift (2000b), and Whatmore (2002) demonstrate how frameworks for thinking about nature–society influence the problems that get addressed and which aspects of the world are made visible or invisible. Over the last two decades this body of work provided a range of perspectives for researchers looking at socio-environmental change. These perspectives have shown multiple ways of thinking about nature–society relationships extending beyond dominant Cartesian discourses. This literature makes more visible and accessible less dominant knowledges about nature and society (for example those specific to context, language or ethnicity; stemming from feminist enquiry or subversive research; post-development and indigenous accounts). In doing so, a greater number of ways of conceptualising and framing nature–society relations are revealed, some conflicting, but all providing alternative rationales for identifying socio-environmental problems and solutions (Head, Trigger, & Mulcock, 2005;Whatmore, 2006).

Chapter 1  Social science at work on the world: introducing theory, context, and practice
1.1 A challenge and an opportunity: setting the scene
1.2 Social science methodologies shape sustainable development knowledge and practice
1.3 A response: addressing environmental politics by exploring practices
1.5 A refreshed thesis enactment: and explication of methodologies
1.6 The work each chapter does
Chapter 2  Theoretical perspectives: positioning enactive social science
2.1 A goal: to cultivate the becoming of a refreshed social science
2.2 Assembling theory, enacting social knowledge through spaces of co-learning 11
2.3 What constitutes a unit of analysis?
2.4 Social science as a unit of analysis for sustainable development
2.5 Methodologies shape possibilities of development
2.6 Dominant narratives of social science and sustainable development
2.7 A geographical experiment with the co-production idiom
2.8 Nature-society knowing-doing reassembled through a co-production lens
2.9 Knowledge as participation in the world
Chapter 3  A knowledge production strategy for enactive social science
3.1 Enacting an enactive geography
3.2 Getting a ‘worm’s eye view’
3.3 Explicating situated globalising processes of co-constitution
3.4 Four research engagements
3.5 Representing context and complexity
3.6 Finding relevant and refreshed frames of social science to circulate
3.7 Exploring spaces, traces, trajectories, and boundaries
3.8 Tracing co-production through slippery categories, rooms and moments
3.9 Narrating and analysing co-production
3.10 Illustrating a situated politics of identity formation, being and becoming
3.11 Generative knowledge
3.12 Summary: Enacting refreshed socials of sustainable development
Chapter 4  Social science shaping sustainable development: situated knowing-doing
4.1 State initiated social science, sustainable development and science
4.2 Making social science through Landcare Research
4.3 Inter- and trans-disciplinary research
4.4 Practices of social science for sustainable development
4.5 Why these people, sites and topics: what is the political economy of social science in New Zealand?
4.6 Making social science work through international research-policy networks
4.7 Making the social scientist: an unsettled subject
4.8 Summary
Chapter 5  Encountering a gap between enactments of knowledge-power
5.1 Amidst state facilitated sustainable development 2004-2007
5.2 Constrained by knowledge and practice of others and else-where
5.3 Engagement One: Participation in place making, social science enabling democracy
5.4 Co-learning sustainable development through community networks
5.5 Reassembling state-community relations
5.6 Making communities accountable
5.7 Rendering participation governable
5.8 Creating an ethics of ‘community based’ research
5.9 Engagement Two: Responding to climate change, social science reducing conflict
5.10 Measuring and managing carbon emissions
5.11 Co-learning sustainable development so carbon can work through researchpolicy networks
5.12 Engagement Three: Urban development, social science and the rational other
5.13 Co-learning sustainable development through urban knowledge transfer
5.14 Integrating through places, outputs and budgets
5.15 The collaborative turn
5.16 Making urban places and urban professionals
5.17 Making infrastructure governance
5.18 Creating ‘green’ assets
5.19 Re positioning CRIs in the new space of urban
5.20 Re-presenting the work of disciplines
5.21 Blurring boundaries through integration
5.22 Co-learning sustainable development an ontological tussle
5.23 Summary: collaboration and learning for sustainable development
Chapter 6  Co-producing socials of sustainable development 2009-2012
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Sustainable development and state projects of productivity
6.3 Sustainable development re-scripting knowledge making
6.4 Refreshed performances of the social
6.5 Making collectives
6.6 Generating possible worlds
6.7 Turning up in contested spaces
6.8 Reframing contributions to climate change
6.9 Opening up possibilities for climate change
6.10 Refreshed globalizing agendas
6.11 Negotiating the socials of environmental change
6.12 Asking generative questions
6.13 Co-producing sustainable futures
6.14 Co-producing sustainable development through ethical responses
6.15 Co-producing sustainable development through foresight
6.16 Co-producing sustainable urban development, hosting Magnetic South
6.17 Co-producing sustainable development through online conversations
6.18 Speeding up social science
6.19 Folding the future into the present
6.20 Summary: knowledge-power performances co-producing sustainable development
Chapter 7  Social science makes possible worlds and worlds of possibility
7.1 Potential and actual achievements of social science for sustainable development
7.2 Methodologies were saturated with politics
7.3 Stabilizing the social through practices, ways of organising, and representing
7.4 Institutions of development were being shaped through co-learning
7.5 Possibilities for collective action reduced by over-representing dualisms
7.6 Networking to integrate systems and disciplines: the objects of knowledge  shaped both social science and sustainable development
7.8 Refreshment One: Extending epistemological and ontological capabilities
7.9 Refreshment Two: working on the world through new actors and relationalities
Chapter 8  Conclusion: towards enactive social science
8.1 The becoming of a refreshed social science, a goal partially achieved
8.2 The strategy in review: enacting spaces for refreshed social science
8.3 Co-producing social knowledge for sustainable development
8.4 A refreshed social science through Landcare Research
8.5 A refreshed social science through CRI-University collaborations
8.6 A refreshing and enactive geography
8.7 To conclude
Appendix
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