Transdisciplinary research (TDR) is widely regarded as a promising, and even essential, means of addressing complex sustainability problems, whilst delivering beneficial outcomes for scientists and the non-academic actors with whom they engage. Premised on the 'ecological modernisation' of Europe, regional funding for TDR under Framework Programmes such as FP7 and more recently Horizon 2020 have sought to support academic engagement with a wide range of research stakeholders through calls for transdisciplinary research in order to better address Europe's "grand societal challenges" (EC 2013). This article, based on doctoral research, consists of an ex-post study of three European Union funded transdisciplinary projects (CREPE, EJOLT and GAP2) implemented under the Seventh Framework's (2007-2013) Science in Society program. Its focus is on how issues of power and governance permeate TDR projects, giving rise to tensions, challenges and ultimately struggles over the very meaning of official projects and their outcomes, despite the most egalitarian of intentions and underlying principles of mutual benefit. These tensions, this article argues, should be understood not merely as cultural, methodological or cognitive challenges, but as essentially political conflicts that manifest and flow across multiple scales. In light of these inherent challenges, the article argues that TDR is always conducted on a terrain of political ecology, and concludes by making recommendations for potential collaborators, as well as for European research policy makers, with the objective of enabling participants and funders alike to realise the transformative potential of this promising mode of research.
Keywords: Political ecology of transdisciplinary research, power, governance, Science in Society, European research agenda, agro-ecology, environmental justice, fisheries
How to Cite:
Healy, H., (2019) “A political ecology of transdisciplinary research”, Journal of Political Ecology 26(1), p.500-528. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v26i1.23245