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 included:
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 project is funded by the Research Innovation Facility (RIF) of the International Institute of Social Studies.
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). The exhibition showed life on the ground for residents of Cape Town, a city of four million people at the southernmost point of the African continent, during the city’s water crisis in the first months of 2018. Zwietering had travelled to Cape Town expecting an apocalyptic scenario in the weeks before Day Zero – the day on which the city’s water supplies would run out and the entire city’s taps would be turned off. Panic was predicted. Yet her photos reveal calm, not chaos, intriguing viewers and causing them to question the discourses on water wars and conflicts that accompany those on water scarcity.
I was invited to give a talk at the opening of the exhibition, as my PhD research focuses on how water users navigate changing water availability in urban contexts, and as a South African who had studied the collapse of urban water supply systems in South Africa and had a first-hand experience of Cape Town’s water crisis. I remarked how Zindzi
“…shows that changing nature becomes evident in shocks, creating uncertainty about what we have always taken for granted … [and shows] responses of urban residents to the lack of water, creating the impression of a sense of calmness and peace despite the looming threat, and also our reconnection with nature through our interactions with water".
We have strengthened our collaboration by 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. Stay tuned for more news on this!
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.