THESys Postdoc Network


Research topic:
Bridging scales in interdisciplinary human-environment research

The complex questions we deal with in human-environment research are often linked to broad issues of sustainability, sustainable development, governance of resources, climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation, resource conflicts etc. To address this complexity, we approach these issues from very different theoretical perspectives and with very different methodologies – and often, at very different spatial, temporal and institutional scales. This makes integration and exchange of research results and outcomes difficult, and necessitates a better understanding of the diverse approaches to and understandings of “scales”. Moreover, different scientific traditions have different approaches to how to make research results relevant in broader societal discussions. This links to questions of how to generalize (empirically or theoretically) from individual studies. Some disciplines are concerned with upscaling or downscaling of results, while others use ‘zooming techniques’ to zoom in on empirical specificities and zoom out to broader contextual processes.

Finally, within human-environment research concerned with governing or steering transformation towards sustainability, there is an ongoing discussion of the role, necessity and appropriateness of different scales of research, action and intervention. This also involves discussions about understanding of the interplay between scales (e.g. between the individual and the collective) and the interactions that take place between different levels (e.g. between local and global). Certain issues are sometimes equated with and tackled on certain scalar configurations.

These broad challenges frame the three overall research objectives that we are currently discussing within the network:

  • The different understandings and assumptions which go into our different approaches to scale (e.g. spatial, temporal, organizational, etc.) and to scalar interactions (e.g. local-to-global and vice-versa).
  • The diversity of approaches to ‘scaling’ results, data and methods within different scientific traditions pose a challenge that we would like to explore in the interdisciplinary setting of the network.
  • How bridging scales and shifting the perspective of a particular human-environment phenomena may lead to new knowledge, and affect efforts to govern sustainability transformations.