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Giving Thanks in the Midst of Transformation

Guest editorial by Susi Moser, Senior Adviser to the ISSC Transformations to Sustainability Programme

We’re approaching the end of the year, and the holiday season for many of us. It will be a welcome and much needed downtime after a busy few months. One of those precious brief times where one can sit back and reflect a bit on all that one is grateful for.

And indeed, there is much to be grateful for at the end of 2016, even if it is also a challenging, to many an alarming time. This year has seen political shifts in various countries around the world, which were unexpected by many, and which are sure to have global impact. We are at an uncertain juncture that makes many hopeful, and others despairing.

Is that how it always is in times of transformation? Surely, all transformation brings something to an end at the same time that it starts something new. Transformation is, if nothing else, a trend breaker. That is why it seems like a good time to invoke gratitude in the midst of it.

I, for one, am grateful for all those who have the courage to think and speak out loud about what falls into that impossible category of the ‘unthinkable’. We are all so caught in ‘trend-line thinking’, where what comes next is rarely a significant deviation from what has always been, or what seems consistent with the cultural norm. And those who have the imagination and courage to alert us to the unthinkable are essential to transformation.

I am also grateful for those willing and humble enough to contemplate with an open heart and mind what is worth keeping and what should be let go in the course of major change. Painful as it is, a shock to one’s most dearly held beliefs seems like much needed medicine to reinvigorate reflexivity, honesty and dialogue across deep social, political and cultural rifts.
Like nothing else, the profound reckoning that must take place in the midst of transformation also clarifies what is immutable, enduring, essential. For me: land, water, Earth’s life support systems; and a commitment to strive towards greater equality, justice and love, even if we will forever struggle with how to enact it.

Things that endure and things that need to change are at the heart of the Transformations to Sustainability Programme. That is why I think we can be grateful for those who helped initiate and now continue to make this programme happen; for the funders that had the vision to support it; for the advisers who help move it forward; and for the growing network of researchers and partners that bring the projects alive through commitment and hard work. The work you and others do on social transformation will help us understand these profoundly challenging times and ultimately bring about the kind of transformations we are hoping for.

COSUST Special Issue published
An edited collection of 16 papers on co-design in sustainability science, authored by members of the Transformations to Sustainability programme community, is now published as a special issue of the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST).

The papers examine co-design in the context of social-science-led, integrated research on transformations to sustainability, including a practical ‘hands-on’ look at doing co-design, and what can be learned from the experience. Download the open access synthesis (pp.106 - 115) and explore the table of contents. 
Webinar: opportunities for social science to shape the future
Earlier this year, we held a webinar to discuss the opportunities for social science in the forthcoming Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. The great response to the webinar meant that we ran out of time, and not all the participants had a chance to have their questions answered. We've followed up with a blog, in which the webinar speakers respond to extra questions on opportunities for early-career researchers, examples of positive transitions to sustainability and more. 
Intellectual Property and Seeds
Seeds may be tiny, but they affect our lives in myriad ways: as a means of subsistence, and as a source of food. A new video highlights work of the PATHWAYS network on the topic of seeds, food sovereignty and intellectual property. Produced in English and Spanish, the video provides background to current debates on the introduction of a new seed law in Argentina, and proposes new ideas for protecting innovation and ensuring access, including inspiration from open source programming. The video was produced in conjunction with local artists. 
Third Transformative Knowledge Workshop
For each of the T2S programme’s annual Transformative Knowledge Workshops, we aim to go to a location that has undergone or is undergoing deep social change. India has seen profound transformations over the decades, and is today home to a panoply of social movements and activist organizations aiming to change socio-ecological relationships at various levels around the country. With all three Transformative Knowledge Networks (TKNs) having partners in India, it was opportune that the third annual workshop convened this year in New Delhi from 5 to 8 November this year. 
New website for T-LearningThe T-LEARNING network recently launched a new website, featuring news and views, resources, and much more. Case stories from around the world highlight transgressive social learning for social-ecological sustainability in times of climate change.

Members of the ACKnowl-EJ network, as well as a representative of the T-LEARNING network, recently participated in a workshop on environmental justice and conflict transformation, held at the University of East Anglia, UK. The 'think tank' workshop welcomed researchers, activists and practitioners from across the world to share experiences and ideas; and to explore how a transformative research agenda for environmental justice is being, or can be, developed. The workshop also aimed to explore ways to develop further collaborations that can help advance an agenda of transformative research for global environmental justice. 

Ashish Kothari (ACKnowl-EJ) spoke at the International Degrowth Conference that took place in Budapest earlier this year. A video of his presentation on the topic of 'Radical alternatives to unsustainability and inequality', and PowerPoint slides are available.

Members of the PATHWAYS network at Beijing Normal University recently held a workshop on 'Ecological Civilization and the Governance of China’s Green Transformation' with representatives from Kenya, UK and China; and a Transformation Lab on 'Transformative Pathways to Sustainability: Exploring the Social Impacts of Green Transformations' with policy-makers, researchers and stakeholders involved in the cement industry in Hebei Province, China. Network partners in the UK recently worked with colleagues at the University of Sussex to host an event on 'Transformations to Sustainable Food Systems in Brighton and Hove', to report on initial research and discuss future strategic plans. See the concept note prepared for this strand of work in early 2015.


A Multilateral Joint Call for Proposals on Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) implemented jointly by NORFACE, the Belmont Forum and the ISSC will soon be published. Since the Pre-Announcement was published (on 7 November), the ISSC, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), has been able to commit to supporting the participation of researchers in low- and lower-middle-income countries in this call. More information will be available on our website as soon as the call is finalized and published.


Perspectives on sustainability from outside the Euro-Atlantic mainstream: Handbook on Sustainability Transition and Sustainable Peace, Brauch, H.G., Oswald Spring, Ú., Grin, J., Scheffran, J. (eds). 2016

Comparing electricity transitions: a historical analysis of nuclear, wind and solar power in Germany and Japan. Cherp, A., Vinichenko, V., Jewell, J., Suzuki, M. and Antal, M. Energy Policy, November 2016. For further discussion see the Political Economy of Energy Transitions (POLET) website.

The Search For Radical Alternatives: Key Elements And Principles, Kothari, A., November 2016. En Español.

Combining land-use planning and tenure security: a tenure responsive land-use planning approach for developing countries. Chigbu, U.E., Schopf, A., de Vries, W., Masum, F., Mabikke, S., Antonio, D., and Espinoza, J. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, November 2016

Justicia Ambiental y Autonomía Indígena de Base Territorial en Bolivia. Un dialogo político desde el Pueblo Monkox de Lomerio. Inturias, M., Rodriguez, I., Valderomar H. and Peña, A. (eds), 2016. Produced by UEA in conjunction with the Union of Indigenous People of Lomerio (CICOL), Universidad NUR, Grupo Confluencias and the Ministry of Autonomy of Bolivia, and presented at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples Issues. It has a focus on Lomerio, Bolivia, one of the case studies areas of ACKnowl-EJ. 

A propósito del fuego: diálogo de saberes y justicia cognitiva en territorios indígenas culturalmente frágiles. Rodríguez, I., Sletto, B., Leal, A., Bilbao, B. and Sánchez-Rose, I.,TRILOGÍA. Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad, 2016. This article discusses the role of transformative knowledge networks in bringing about greater cognitive justice with regards to the use and management of fire by the Pemon indigenous people in Canaima National Park, Venezuela, one of the case study areas of the ACKnowl-EJ network.

A special section of the Journal of Political Ecology (Vol. 23, 2016) focuses on 'Ecologically unequal exchange and ecological debt', with several articles related to the Atlas of Environmental Justice (EJATLAS). See also an overview published in the Ecologist, November 2016.


STEPS Summer School
15 - 26 May 2017
University of Sussex, UK
Apply by 29 January 2017

Sustainability and Social Science Research Symposium
 17 - 19 May 2017
University of Michigan, USA 
Open for registration

23rd International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference
14 - 16 June 2017
Bogota, Colombia
Deadline for abstracts: 31 December 2016

Summer School for early-career researchers
IMPACT: Approaches and Tools for Enhancing the Social and Policy Impact of Your Research
18 – 20 June 2017
Budapest, Hungary
Open for registration

Transformations 2017 - Transformations in Practice
August 30 - September 1 2017
Dundee, UK
Open for registration

II Conference of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS-II)
7 – 10 November 2017
Oaxaca City, Mexico
Call for session proposals closes 30 January 2017

Contributions to this newsletter are welcome at
The Transformations to Sustainability Programme is coordinated by the ISSC and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Copyright © 2016 International Science Council, All rights reserved.

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Opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this newsletter are those of the contributors; the ISSC and its partners in the Transformations to Sustainability Programme accept no liability in this regard.

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