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Knowledge Cumulation in Environmental Governance Research (Seminar)

Dozent/in: Jens Newig, Michael Rose

wöchentlich | Dienstag | 16:15 - 17:45 | 04.04.2022 - 08.07.2022 | C 40.152

Inhalt: Have you ever wondered why you have to read so many papers and produce such a lengthy bibliography for your thesis, and whether this is really required to answer the research question you are interested in? Of course, citation work is necessary to document the sources of facts and arguments you use in your research, to make sure you do not commit intellectual fraud. But more importantly, another reason we read and cite is because, as scientists, we are ultimately “seekers of the truth“ (aren’t we?). We want to understand and explain how – and why – the world works the way it does. As good scientist and truth-seekers, though, we acknowledge that there is no way to ever have complete – or completely objective – knowledge of anything. While scientific knowledge – produced with scientific methods according to scientific standards – is far more reliable and valid than mere opinions about facts, it is always preliminary: it can be confirmed, modified, complemented and sometimes even falsified by new findings. This is how scientific knowledge advances. And to advance, it needs to cumulate. And to cumulate, different stocks of knowledge need to build on each other, speak to each other, understand each other, question each other, and stick to certain quality standards. So on the one hand, as scientists, we need to know and evaluate what other researchers found on the research object we are interested in so we can add our own research in a meaningful way to advance knowledge. This is why we engage with the relevant literature. On the other hand, we should conduct and publish our own research in a way that facilitates knowledge cumulation, for example by making data, methods and limitations transparent. Moreover, knowledge cumulation does not only advance science, it is also suited to contribute to evidence-informed policy and practice. However, cumulating knowledge is easier said than done, in particular in an interdisciplinary, social-science oriented field like environmental governance research that also strives for societal relevance. There is a growing recognition that environmental governance research is facing challenges to produce trusted, cumulative knowledge about what governance arrangements “work” under what conditions. The research community’s topics, approaches, concepts, geographies, research questions and methods are so diverse that research often occurs in parallel universes. Concepts are seldom used consistently across studies, and the field is dominated by single case studies wanting synthesis and integration, e.g. by shared analytical frameworks. Existing research is rarely truly challenged or further built upon so that genuine scientific progress would emerge. To a certain extent, this is due to some dysfunctionalities of the academic incentive system that favour originality over cumulation and contribute to publication bias. In the first third of this seminar, we will read key texts as a basis for intense discussions about questions such as: • What is the state of knowledge (non-) cumulation in environmental governance research? • Is knowledge cumulation really possible and if so, how? (Why) Is it important? • How do we recognise knowledge cumulation when it walks up to us on the street? • What are ways forward to improve knowledge cumulation in our field? In the remaining two thirds of the seminar, course participants will work on a variety of small knowledge cumulation projects that students choose to develop and implement. These could include small systematic literature reviews; work on key concepts of environmental governance research; analysis of existing data from an ongoing research project on knowledge cumulation in earth system governance research; citation analysis; or replication studies. Towards the end of the semester, students will present the (interim) status of their projects for feedback and discussion. Feedback should be incorporated into the preparation of written assignments due in September.