Life Not Separated

“A vida não é separada, as coisas acontecem juntas”.

“Life is not separated, things happen together” is a rough translation of one researcher’s statement, which comprises the views, the spirit and the positionings that I have experienced within ISEC.

I came across the Instituto de Sociologia y Estudos Campesinos (ISEC) of the Universidad de Cordoba (Spain) through the vast literature produced by this center on Agroecology. ISEC has been developing sound epistemological approaches and theorisation in this field for the last twenty years. Agroecology is presented as a full-fledged interdisciplinary and pluriepistemological fieldwork articulating and merging social and natural sciences with peoples’ knowledge, applied to the study, planning and transformation of agroecosystems towards sustainability. It represents then a concrete field of ID knowledge and practice, whereas most of the times ID seems to be something more of an ethereal and intangible nature.

Discussing ID and TD with Masters’ and PhD’ students in a pleasant atmosphere

Agroecology implies a holistic approach to the complexity of human-nature systems. In ISEC Agroecology is tackled in three dimensions: ecological-productive; socio-economic and political-cultural. Yet, the institute is searched for, above all, for its differential approach, sociology-based, and for its political and social engagement with grassroots organisations and groups.

Agroecology, and today also Food Sovereignty, are thus the common grounds where particularly Interdisciplinarity (ID) emerges. The core research group tries to embed it in their teaching in University of Cordoba (they teach in the agronomy, tourism and sociology degrees); in the masters’ course on Agroecology; in research projects and through supporting processes of social groups, movements and public institutions in these fields.

ID is conceptualised as a dialogue of disciplines and views, a “diálogo de miradas”. But what should be ID: the researcher or the research team? Both can rise through long processes of overcoming language, mindset and rhythms’ gaps. It is tried out through composing the masters in modules instead of disciplines; in their internal inter-training and dialogue when working together, when writing joint papers, etc.; but also when working with ISEC’s external members.

Transdisciplinarity (TD) comes as a goal, the only way forward in agroecological terms. Yet, it is critical. It is seen as the dialogue between knowledges of different social groups (“diálogo de saberes”) but it brings about tricky questions and deep challenges that perhaps we are still not ready to tackle. How intercultural a dialogue can be when structural power relations are there? Do researchers go through deep processes of acknowledging their power? True recognition and valuing of other knowledges as well as of other ways of building such knowledge are in place?

TD implies taking close care of power relations in the definition, in the decision-making and in the full implementation of the research. We have to collectively deconstruct ourselves in order to then reconstruct a real shared knowledge. This is a permanent vigilance pathway, which is blocked inter allia by the academic system itself. Current values trigger individual, competitive, productivist academic profiles. Funding policies, even when stating ID and TD approaches, do not recognise it nor value it in their ranking processes.

ISEC grants its persistence through the fact that some of its researchers are hired by the University; by some small projects that allow to have some more researchers involved; by a loose network of close researchers from other universities (some in other countries); by keeping a masters’ and PhD course and by their strong belief in Agroecology, which also represents their own way of life.

Author: Cecília Fonseca