I have been involved in a research project on transformative research methodologies since November 2020. The project seeks to conceptualise a transformative research methodology that underlines a radically different and morally responsible way of conducting research by identifying and challenging ontological and epistemological assumptions that limit the transformative potential of produced knowledge and perpetuate social injustices in research processes.
Questions leading the discussions include:
What is the purpose of scientific research?
Who benefits from such research?
How can transformative social change be achieved?
Who enacts such change?
What are the intersectional implications of such change?
Different perspectives and practices were brought together in an online workshop held in May 2021; these will be synthesised as a first step in the conceptualisation of a transformative research methodology that we hope can inform research processes in the future. The workshop has enabled lively discussions and thought-provoking insights and ideas that are captured in a virtual gallery of workshop presentations and a blog series on ISS Blog Bliss that I coordinated and edited. The research team is currently writing a working paper based on workshop presentations and discussions.
The project is funded by the Research Innovation Facility (RIF) of the International Institute of Social Studies.
Bron: The Hidden Dimensions of Water Crises
On 10 March 2020, just days before the world went into lockdown as the pandemic started its slow march of destruction, photographer Zindzi Zwietering launched her photo exhibition called Bron at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS). Zwietering had travelled to Cape Town expecting an apocalyptic scenario in the weeks before Day Zero – the day on which the entire city’s taps would be turned off following the depletion of its water supplies. Her work documented life on the ground at the height of the crisis, revealing surprising and sometimes beautiful moments.
I also found myself in Cape Town during this time, in February 2018, observing how residents were coping with severe water restrictions imposed by the city's administration. My observations were closely linked to my PhD research on the same topic – how water users navigate changing water availability in urban contexts, especially due to drought.
I was therefore invited to give a talk at the opening of the exhibition. This has been the start of a fruitful multidisciplinary project. We are currently working on a book also titled Bron. The publication sits at the interface of art and science, revealing how residents of Cape Town navigated the city's water crisis through photographs and texts that are based on observations, personal experience, and research on understandings of and adaptation to water scarcity in other South African towns.
The book has received generous financial support by private donors, as well as the Mondriaan Fund, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, and the Stokroos Foundation. It will be published in September 2022 by Dutch independent publisher The Eriskay Connection. More news to follow soon!
In June 2020, Zindzi and I were invited to talk at a world café hosted by a handful of Belgian organisations including 11.11.11, Oxfam-Wereldwinkels, Broederlijk Delen, MO* and Dienst Ontwikkelingssamenwerking Stad Antwerpen. We reflected on how water users make sense of changing water availability in urban contexts through a reflection of Cape Town’s water crisis. At that time, a drought was sweeping through Western Europe, leading to water restrictions and new understandings of the value of water. Our observations, we hope, could help water users in high-income countries who had likely never faced water shortages to better understand changing water availability.