Halfway through the project - so far a great success

It is hard to publish interdisciplinary research, especially with limited time, limited resources, and audiences that may be far removed from the communities you work with. Much interdisciplinary and important experimental work goes on outside of the awareness of mainstream international academic audiences because academic publishing is a specialised skill set, structured in ways that don’t easily allow for new voices or new ways of communicating. The Art of Transdisciplinary Research Communications: Sustainable Futures in Writing is a year-long project (funded by The British Academy) of writing, creation, collaboration and mentorship aimed to address this challenge.

The project is designed to support early career social science and arts researchers in sustainability, from Africa, South America, and South Asia to develop their work for international publication and dissemination. SF Network members, Dr Zoe Strachan and Mia Perry from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and Professor George Olusola Ajibade from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, lead this project with critical support from SF Network Manager, Vanessa Duclos, Research Assistant, Sundas Mahar, and an expert team of writing mentors from across the network.

The workshops could not accommodate the demand of applications, so fifteen early career writers were selected to take part in this first iteration of Sustainable Futures in Writing. The first of three online workshops took place in October 2021. The cohort of writers shared projects, plans, and fears; we explored author voices, writing practices, and journal processes. After this initial phase of work, the writers produced their first blog posts about their writing topic and plans which can be found here.

Hurrah, I am encouraged to write and be a good writer” (Grace Awosanmi)

In the second workshop in mid-November 2021, the cohort met journal editors and creative writers from various contexts. We explored the range of knowledge exchange activities that impact audience engagement, and we considered issues related to writing with and for social justice and equity. Writers began to work through peer critique sessions and established personal goals and plans for the progress of their projects.

“This is a collaboration of people who wanted to change the world and make it a better place to live” (Abhinand Kishore)

Throughout the project, the writers have kept in touch with a designated mentor, had one-to-one meetings, and ongoing support on their journey.  We are now heading towards our third and final series of workshops in which we will be working with complete (or nearly complete) drafts of work, journal submission requirements, and dissemination plans. Watch this space for announcements about a public presentation and celebration of this work, and hopefully not long after that, the publications themselves!


Growth through Practical Learning

I often wonder what was the point of learning if it cannot be applied to real-world issues? I remember my outreach days in the slums of Lagos and how much the SDGs felt like the "must follow" steps to achieve the long-term of a more sustainable society. But as in my post-Bsc learning, i discovered that reality and theory are two different things in trying to solve the problem of poverty, hunger, and environmental governance which are my main research areas. Researching why Nigerians still use plastic bags in 2021 and the impact on the environment at the interdisciplinary level gave me a deeper hunger to chase a transdisciplinary sustainability Ph.D. dream. Now, i am researching methodological cosmopolitanism and ocean governance with a focus on the loss of marine biodiversity in Marine Protected Areas. My work now is entrenched in environmental governance, policies and knowledge co-creation. I love it (at least for now) because it is practical beyond familiar disciplinary boundaries.

Margaret Aligbe

I am a PhD student with a background in interdisciplinary sustainability studies now focused on transdisciplinary research in Ocean governance.


Being here

Everyday Social and Research

We are always in the act of making us, the 'We'. We, those who understand the language despite different perceptions, conceptions and interpretations. Other living beings can't understand this written language, but it can be translated into sounds, gestures, smell, taste, touch and other signals/codes. The artificial neurons can read this, working on a feedback system, with instructions to receive, analyze and produce, based on the training data and the preceding data. We are here or there, entangled with the moments of interactions, beings inseparable from the matter/non-matter in the world.

Our life is filled with different colors, sounds, tastes, images, smells, textures, organs, bodies, dreams, and their memories and lack/plenty. Our understandings confronts ” ‘the structure and dynamics of the brain which evolves, wires and predicts’, ‘the genes replicating for millions of years in survival machines’, ‘the processes of production, consumption, distribution, exchange and recording of data from birth through childhood to death’, ‘the perceptions of senses’, ‘the chaotic movement of inextricably linked matter (including us), energy, space and time, by unleashing varieties of patterns and rhythms’, ‘the continuing struggle of survival machines and desiring machines to flow, occupy, discover, create, copy, penetrate, judge, punish, destroy, win, get recognised and die in richness…..’

To our understanding;- without a telescope there is no cosmos, without a microscope there is no cell, without a camera there is no cinema. Otherwise, cosmos or cells or cinema can exist as thoughts or as imaginations articulated on a canvas or a paper with words and colors, but nothing more, nothing beyond. It’s not like some medium or material or instrument just comes in and translates thoughts into expressions communicable. I write, primarily to get clarity of understanding. The piece of writing I plan as part of the workshop, in particular, wants to be read by researchers. I want to reach the general public too, by translating to malayalam. With much affection, I like the writing to reach those who are interested in the nuances of everyday social shaping the world. I look at socialities, the way people relate, connect or engage with each other, in the context of urban Kerala. The diffused and spreaded structure of urbanisation urges to study the movement of the people making connections and networks. The socialities of Keralites in different experiential space-time projects the nuances of everyday life translating to oppression and progression. The everyday violence, it’s embeddedness with the daily routines, through the practice of centuries, keys right into the neural networks that understand ‘others’ and the world. That makes it easy for oppressive ideologies like capitalism and brahmanism to maintain and deepen the social stratification in terms of wealth and caste. How is it that different human practices create and make use of different definitions of urban Kerala? How socialities are formed and get entangled to form the urban Kerala of varying scales, spaces and times?

When I start to think of (or write or talk) anything ( an event or people or places or anything) I’m already confronted with the question: ‘What is the relation of the author(me) to ‘anything’?’ Who am I to ask this? I believe that a researcher should always be ethically responsible about research questions. Critique of immediate experiential space-time makes me responsible and aware of my relation to the immediate and the distant. It’s all about living the life, practicing, by intensifying potentialities, communicating and collaborating with people in an open field. Relations with the audience will be different with different forms and mediums of expressions. Friends from various fields like cinema, journalism, teaching, photography, drawing, social work, architecture, political parties, law, writing, IT etc. form a part of the audience and I’m their listener, in different ways. In addition to that there will be an audience I never directly engage with, but connected at an ethical level. I also do drawings and take photographs, which are inseparable from my lived experience and the research. I also plan to make audio and video productions, for which the writings will be the initial frame of reference. The creative works are an invitation for dialogue and I’ll be happy if any person uses my creative works without permission, as I don’t own them personally. It is the mood of being here, moves me, to understand and create , despite the occasional social anxieties in relating to others.

Abhinand Kishore

I draw, write, capture and listen. A researcher and an artist, desiring to collaborate with various ways of knowing/doing, to understand the world. Currently doing PhD, studying the urbanisation of Kerala. After completing the Electronics and Communication engineering degree, I had worked in a NGO named Anannia initiated by a conglomerate of social activists, social workers and other professionals. The projects of Anannia includes- Chilla, a foster home for children of sex workers, HIV orphans and children-in-conflict with law, Center for gender and sexuality, and the Centre for life skill education.I did MA in International Relations and Political Science from Central University of Kerala. I envisages a project called ‘on body’ incorporating different forms of expressions. I desire to study more of neuroscience and make movies.


What it's going to be my contribution? Why?

Questions and worries I mapped

I am an education researcher working within an interdisciplinary team composed mainly of natural sciences colleagues. I am a researcher with little experience in the specific topic (precision technology in agriculture) but aiming to contribute to an interdisciplinary conversation by bringing in Afro-Colombian smallholders experiences, knowledge and the challenges they face while farming within a complex context. Lastly, as a Chilean researcher, I am trying to learn from and contribute to Colombia's smallholder farming debates and research.

I am an education researcher working within an interdisciplinary team composed mainly of natural sciences colleagues. I am a researcher with little experience in the specific topic (precision technology in agriculture) but aiming to contribute to an interdisciplinary conversation by bringing in Afro-Colombian smallholders experiences, knowledge and the challenges they face while farming within a complex context. Lastly, as a Chilean researcher, I am trying to learn from and contribute to Colombia’s smallholder farming debates and research.

From this introduction, I have identified three cross-research complexities that at some point affect/impact my reflections on what would/should be the contribution of this paper: to interdisciplinary research? To specific literature? Shall I also focus on participatory methodologies? Or maybe the relevance of using the capability approach as the main theoretical framework? The covid was also a key factor, as it interrupted fieldwork, interactions and a necessary conversation between the different researchers. In addition, it prevented me from continuing with a specific line of research that I had begun to develop: the experiences of women in the Colombian countryside, based on the particular case of a cooperative created and organized solely by Afro-Colombian women.

Ideally, I would like to write up and develop two writing outcomes: two academics papers (one on the case of Afro-Colombian farmers and one on the interdisciplinary dynamic and potential contributions as a team to PA). Lastly, I would like to consider what a participant told me about the usefulness of texts/docs as research outcomes. “They (stakeholders/practitioners) bring us a lot of documents, but I don’t have time to read them; written docs don’t make sense to me….” So I would also like to create a material that could be transformed into a podcast or incorporated into a local broadcasting program, which farmers listen to a lot, to generate relevant inputs for them.


Where shall we be without wetlands?

My name is Anthony Kadoma and I am a third-year Post Graduate Research student with the University of Glasgow. I am a Ugandan and a Mutooro by tribe. My current research topic is on understanding stakeholder perceptions on wetland ecosystems services to support conservation and restoration activities. While working with the Sustainable Futures in Africa he engaged in a number of socio-ecological research activities which increased his desire for nature conservation matters.

Nature conservation is very close to my heart and this started way back in my early years of life and schooling. While growing up in the rural district of Kyenjojo, I clearly saw how my community depended on the natural environment for survival whether they were crop farmers or cattle keepers. There were communal grazing grounds where most households would bring their animals for grazing and for water. Resources were distributed much more equally because there was access with no or limited hindrances. But as the population increased, people started carving out private farms and fencing them off which meant that some of the community members could no longer graze their animals at those places. This reduced the size of grazing areas and thus many of the cattle keepers encroached on the land meant for crop growing, thereby causing conflicts between the cattle keepers and the crop farmers.

The reduction in land for both crop and animal farming has led people to invade the formerly unwanted and not thought of areas such as wetlands and forests for crop and animal farming. These are now massively encroached on and dangerously degraded. This means that wetlands and forests can no longer serve the purposes they used to, such as storage of groundwater, wind-breaking, flood control, and provision of certain types of food. This negatively affects humans, animals and nature. People and communities need to be prepared to live without wetlands.

This photograph shows cattle farmers grazing their animals in the wetland which used not to be the case in the past.

I relate to my target audience for my research from many angles. I am a Ugandan born and raised in a rural setting and now as an adult live and work in an urban setting. I am aware of the issues in the rural as well as in the urban areas when it comes to environmental conservation. My current research is done in the same district where I live and thus I will not be talking to my audience as an outsider. I am able to use the language that people understand or relate to. In this, I leverage the skills acquired during my bachelor’s degree in adult and community education from Makerere University. Not working with any government agency makes my engagements with community members more acceptable and lowers their expectations of monetary gain, in favour of aiming towards practical knowledge that will enable them to find some solutions to their current challenges as well as enhancing co-existence with nature.

Crop farmers are now encroaching the wetland deep where they cut, dry and burn papyrus so as to get where to plant vegetables

owever, I envisage a challenge of how to effectively and efficiently communicate my nature conservation message to my target audience. For instance, I need to use communication channels that are accessible to them, such as holding community meetings, producing and sharing brochures written in the local languages, producing education and information materials with photographs, publishing in the local dailies, communicating through religious and traditional functions. All these are aimed to bring about a change in behavior of the people regarding how we relate and benefit from nature today and for future generations. Sadly, I don’t know how easy it will be for me to have my planned outputs accepted and published in academic journals!

Anthony Kadoma

Anthony Kadoma is a current Post Graduate Researcher with the University of Glasgow focusing on Environmental Sustainability. His research study is on understanding stakeholder perceptions on wetland ecosystem services to support conservation and restoration activities in Wakiso district, Uganda. He also holds a Master of Arts Degree in Applied Community Change and Peacebuilding (October 2013) from the Future Generations Graduate School WV, USA and a Bachelors Degree of Adult and Community Education 2nd Class Upper Division (2006) from Makerere University, Kampala Uganda. Anthony has since 2007 had consistent work experience in areas of consultancy with various reputable INGOs, NGOs, CBOs, Government Ministries and Departments, mainly in monitoring and evaluations, baseline surveys, mid-term, end line studies and qualitative research. Over the years, he has acquired practical skills in designing, planning, supervising, management and conducting of research studies and other forms of surveys using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. In the course of his work and study Anthony has traveled to India, Haiti, Kenya, Rwanda, Qatar, the United States of America, the United Republic of Tanzania and the United Kingdom. His career objective is to contribute to the body of knowledge where innovation, creativity and growth are given room to flourish in a global community with an emphasis on the use and development of human energy which is a universal resource to all mankind.


In school, language is everything

Mother tongue in education

If we want children to learn, we must teach them in the language they play with, think with, and communicate with on daily basis.

Children learn their first lessons from their mothers. This ranges from speaking the first ‘sensible’ words to being able to express themselves or ask for their needs. Language is the tool for this self-expression. It builds up naturally and gradually. The mother does not need to sit the child down and ask it to learn. The child just learns. Through daily communication, bonds are built, self-confidence grows, simple commands are given and obeyed, and daily routines are followed all because of the use of a common language.

The school is supposed to be a place where children continue the learning process already initiated at home. However, for most Nigerian children, coming to school is a nightmare because they are barred from speaking and learning in the language they have used ever since they were born.

The school is presented to the Nigerian child as a place where they have to drop the ‘old yoke’, that is, the home language, and learn a new language in order to fit into the system. This, apart from disorienting the child somehow breaks the familiar bonds: parents who cannot speak the school language are made to ‘hands up’; they can no longer participate in teaching their child – even when it comes to the simplest concepts that pertain to their daily lives and experiences. The child is also barred from speaking the mother tongue as English becomes the new normal. Self-expression, thinking and every other act that flowed freely and naturally become a herculean task as the child tries to do so in an unfamiliar language. Going to school becomes the same as learning a new language and years that ought to be spent learning the curriculum contents are rather spent learning a new language.

My work, which is a research, will make a case for the use of children’s mother tongue in education. From my earlier works, I realized that this is a complex area of study in Nigeria due to the highly multilingual context in which the schools operate and the politicization of the language policy. In spite of those complexities, I would like to present a clearer picture of what goes on in typical Nigerian classrooms. Through this, I would like to draw attention to the fact that teaching in an unfamiliar language, that is, English, will continue to harm the Nigerian child.

Eucharia Okwudili Ugwu

Nigeria

University of Ibadan


Stories from the Makhonjwa Mountains

In May 2021 I was a volunteer in the first scoping survey of archaeological assets in the Komati Gorge and the Mgwayiza Valley (in the Malolotja Nature Reserve in the Kingdom of Eswatini). Our small multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, anthropologists, researchers, artists and outdoor enthusiasts spent ten days looking for ancient stone tool-making sites and geological rock samples to correlate with existing Middle Stone Age artifacts and research findings at the Eswatini National Museum. The survey itself was a real success, paving the way for a full excavation in early 2022.

The project’s Completion Report stated that, “The Komati Gorge survey area proved to be extremely rich in archaeological assets. The entire Mgwayiza Valley should be considered an important archaeological site because of the density and time range of the remains. These extend from the earliest humans, through the evolution of modern humans to the iron age and up to the recent past. Because of its archaeological richness the Mgwayiza Valley is worthy of special protection. Archaeological excavations in Mgwayiza will provide further details of the country’s rich past.

Though archaeology provided the overall justification for the trip, campfire discussions during the expedition kept coming back to the incredible depth and variety of “time-perspectives” at work in the area. There was unanimous agreement that the area is a goldmine of facts and stories waiting (and deserving) to be uncovered.

The Makhonjwa Mountains, and its ancient rocks, are the oldest on the planet – they are a literal unchanged timepiece from the planet’s formation to the present day. The area was inhabited by humans (and pre-humans) for millions of years, all the way up to the contemporary era. It is also an incredibly diverse conservation area with wonderful flora and fauna, thousand-year-old cycads and a plethora of so-called ecosystem services.

The recent survey has, ultimately, helped frame the importance of the space and the findings – but other approaches are also required to better understand the variety of stories that comprise the multifaceted totality of the area.

I am interested in how art, imagination and storytelling can assist in portraying the depth of wonder that exists in the Mgwayiza Valley to a wider public audience. How can I weave the interconnected threads of geology, archaeology, ecology, anthropology, culture, spirituality and history into one narrative tapestry that both piques human interest whilst contributing data that strengthens the overall call for “recognition and protection”? What role can creativity play alongside historically utilitarian academic disciplines? Ultimately, how can existing archaeological endeavours become more interdisciplinary through creative arts research methods and storytelling, and how can these results be recognised, accessed and consumed by the general public – both globally and locally?

I am aiming to link my creative passions and professional experience with the mountains of my home – mountains that I have fallen in love with over the course of many adventures and explorations during my life. The area in question is at constant threat of industrial mining, biodiversity loss, poaching and general public indifference. It is my hope that the results of this process contribute in some meaningful way to existing archaeological efforts whilst increasing the awareness and overall protection of the greater Malolotja Nature Reserve.

The final product will be a piece of creative writing fully informed by facts obtained from research, fieldtrips and interviews with local experts and knowledge-custodians (jazzed up with a bit of creative license here and there). The piece will have visual accompaniments (photography and/or illustration) with the aim of enticing viewership from as wide a variety of people as possible. The final product may take both digital and physical form as a standalone booklet, potentially also translated into siSwati, and there is significant potential to embed the work within the archaeological academic efforts that are simultaneously underway. Adapted versions of work may also contribute as content to longer-term plans for the establishment of a museum in the park – though this remains to be seen.

Dane Armstrong

Swaziland


Addressing the elephant in the room

Critical assessment of Indian urbanism

My research and writings intend to address the delicate questions about social stratification in urban India. Through my writing, I wish to bring out how we can improve urban planning to address the needs of marginalized communities. The work will present a historical, anthropological perspective to understand the intricate structures and narratives behind the nature of contemporary urbanism. Then the writing will address how the theory and practice of urban planning interact with society and community formation and how to reconfigure it to impact the lives of the non-affluent social groups. The work will also touch upon the question of sustainable development.

I am Nikhil Mathew, and I research urban India in the purview of social anthropology. My dual master’s in sociology and social anthropology focusing on global and urban studies have sharpened my acumen to research socially sensitive issues about urbanism in India. Currently, I am pursuing my graduate study research at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala, India. My research specifically focuses on critically analyzing the process of urban planning by delving into its theory and practice. The basis of my study is a historical-anthropological inquiry and presentation of archival and anecdotal evidence from secondary literature that shows how human settlements formed in India. Simultaneously, I analyze the contemporary aspects of urbanism by critically studying the theory and practice of urban planning from practitioners’ points. To further support my thesis and arguments, I capture the everyday life of the voiceless downtrodden who occupy these urban spaces.

As a writer, I wish to be known as someone who will address and asseverate critical issues about urban social stratification that hinder social progress and well being of oppressed communities. I will be writing from the point of view of equal rights to a city and public space, reflecting on citizenship and civil society.

My relation with the topic stems from my prior field research engagement where I studied why gated communities exist in small towns in India. In the conclusion of my research, I discovered that affluent classes have a disproportionate share and access to resources. The socio-political nexus between land developers, city administration, and local elites dictate city and town planning trajectory.  Many small cities in India have privatized development, and these private land developers are pooling resources to cater to the need of the privileged. Marginalized communities face the brunt of these development programs are they are evited or displaced. From the point of view of the right to the city, the whole urban development process is undemocratic and needs critical intervention.

The academic audiences I will address in this paper will be those working in the social sciences and urban studies. The non-academic audience I am interested in addressing fits into this juncture. I want to present the paper as an intervention, emanating from the preview of social-anthropology addressing exigent issues with community development and urban planning. Engaging with urban planners, architects, the public, and city policymakers is the only way to achieve a productive, critical, proactive, and change-oriented impact through a change in urban planning theory and practice.

My motivation to write comes from the need for a change maker. I’ve been in academics long enough and knows the banalities of armchair theorization and not be part of proactive change. However, I plan to draft this writing to get the attention of policymakers and practitioners of urban planning so that the underrepresented, marginal, and subalterns also have a voice. Therefore, I will draft my research paper with a rigorous balance between anecdotal stories rooted in post facto ethnographic data and theoretical analysis. Moreover, there are significant gaps in social scientific works that address city and town planning of small towns.

Through this workshop, I wish to gain nuanced skills in finding the right balance between presenting theory, ethnographic data, persuasive and argumentative writing to garner adequate outreach. I hope the worship, the assistance of the mentors, and a fantastic peer group of other writers will provide the intellectual temperament and constructive criticism to make writing better.

Nikhil Mathew

India

Mahatma Gandhi University


Nature -People-Nexus: Is it sustainable?

My name is Kellen Aganyira, and I am the mother of two daughters and a son. I work as an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Adult and Community Education, Makerere University – Kampala, Uganda. I hold a Master of Philosophy in Development Studies from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and a PhD in Environment and Natural Resources from Makerere University. As a researcher and an academician, my goal is to contribute knowledge on how to create a balance between natural resource conservation and local communities whose livelihoods depend on environmental resources. Growing up in rural Uganda, I witnessed how state-managed natural resource conservation strategies can be unfair to adjacent communities. Yet, I strongly believe that any initiative that caters for both ecological and social needs is desirable for the present and future generations. My desire therefore, is to engage in research and writing that creates a positive impact in the lives of unprivileged communities of the south who are often left out of the decision-making processes.

My research interests are in the areas of community development, natural resource governance, environmental policy, climate change and sustainable livelihoods. However, I am also curious to research and write across disciplines because this might broaden spaces for communities to effect change. The Sustainable Futures in Writing mentorship program creates an opportunity for me to achieve my objective of writing across disciplines. My major focus is writing journal articles, but I also hope to generate policy briefs that emphasize community-based voices and solutions to their day-to-day challenges. In this way, I hope my writing will influence the policy process by positioning it towards a bottom-up approach.  Nevertheless, I am aware of the challenges that exist between my research agenda and the related outputs. For instance, writing across disciplines may not be easy for me. I am grounded in community development and natural resource management, yet the article I want to write is broadened to include the context of community music and Covid-19. Again, influencing policy may not be easy because policy processes in most developing countries including Uganda often exclude local level stakeholders. The exclusion of local communities in policy processes possibly explains why most development policies fail at implementation stage. I hope to contribute to solving this dilemma through skillful research and writing.

Kellen Aganyira

My name is Kellen Aganyira, a Lecturer in the Department of Adult and Community Education – Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. I hold a PhD in Environment and Natural Resources. My research interest is in natural resource governance, climate change action and community development. My desire is to contribute knowledge that makes impact by changing lives of the vulnerable communities in Uganda and beyond.


Mobile Technologies, Learning and Livelihood

Technology spaces for rural livelihoods

I am Dianah Nampijja, writing about how mobile technologies can support learning for livelihood support. The passion that comes with this writing relates to my background in Information Communications Technologies for Development (ICTD) and adult and community education. In adult education, we focus on extending learning opportunities to less privileged communities for better livelihoods. The marginalized, who are always the majority in many developing countries lack access to education opportunities and adult learning and education are among the means to extend access to learning opportunities.

The passion that comes with this writing relates to my background in Information Communications Technologies for Development (ICTD) and adult and community education. In adult education, we focus on extending learning opportunities to less privileged communities for better livelihoods. The marginalized, who are always the majority in many developing countries lack access to education opportunities and adult learning and education are among means to extend access to learning opportunities.

The complexity of my journey relates to the fact that I enter a field where there is less integration of modern technologies to support learning.  Besides, such communities are often semi or non-literate, yet, technologies are programmed in foreign languages they sometimes do not understand. While I claim the available possibilities technologies can offer to the less privileged, such spaces are equally challenged. It is only when we explore ways they embrace technology use, that we shall know how technologies can support their livelihoods.

Mobile technologies are among technologies they currently use. The mobile phones have proved to be the most accessible technologies for many in developing countries. This is why, in this writing, I am analysing ways mobile technologies support learning about food security among smallholder farmers.

Dianah Nampijja

Uganda

Makerere University