Efforts to better link theoretical understanding with people and their practice involved in community-based environmental research are receiving increased interest and attention. Focused research on the intersections between scientific environment research and society’s practice has provided substantial insight into community-based dynamics of large-scale environmental research and the related impacts on people, animals, natural resources, and ecosystems, yet our ability to connect this research to reality remains limited. Although a practice-based approach is able to address these complex environmental problems by facilitating collaboration between scientists and environmental resource management decision-makers, there are very few environmental researchers engaged in this kind of collaborative work [1
]. Researchers in environmental research have emphasised the issue of science research and people’s ways of doing; however, the concept of practice-based approach in environmental research is undefined and poorly researched. A need exists for theoretical and empirical studies of environment. Focusing on practice-based interdisciplinary approach (PIA), this paper explores a long-standing theoretical and empirical concern of what works, where, when, and why. Special attention is given to community’s practice: how do community people deal with environmental matters, and in what ways do they interact, communicate, understand, evaluate, and manage the connections between their everyday needs and practices on the one hand, and scientific environmental research on the other?
The concept of a practice-based approach can challenge our scientific static mindset regarding who we are as environmental researchers and educators [2
]. A number of environmental studies argue that researchers are limited within science research and/or do not develop ideas and ways of doing “from within”, from the people, yet [3
]. The scientific research is often insufficient to deal with the full complexity of the interplay of variables in environmental research [4
]. Only scientific forms of thinking and doing does not connect people’s interactions, local knowledge, and local values, which form an integral part of the contexts of everyday practice [6
]. Therefore, in environmental research, interconnection between people’s practice and science research is vague and underexplored, and yet to be conceptualised. The practice-based approach is thus concerned with the nature of practice within a local community and leads to new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice [1
]. Such an approach not only minimises our static mindset about scientific research/practice boundaries, but also includes practice as an integral part of its method, and often falls within the general area of participatory, community-driven action research, intended to provide outcomes that benefit potential audiences. We as educators or researchers, have a responsibility to explore how scientific “thought traditions, hitherto heavily dependent on the dualism of nature and society” [8
], (p. 11) in our interdisciplinary environmental research [9
]. Consequently, working towards PIA is crucial for environmental research and for society in general [1
]. Thus, this paper presents a concept analysis of a practice-based approach and its implications for interdisciplinary environmental research.
A PIA is required to tackle the challenges in environmental research. For redeveloping environmental in research from PIA, I have divided this paper into the following sections: first, a critical discussion of some of the significant challenges in scientific interdisciplinary research (SIA); second, PIA is defined, including its scientific and social relevance, and what we accomplish when we redefine environmental research from PIA; third, I discuss how to redefine environmental research by using three concepts (Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, Latour’s concept of thing, and Haraway’s cyborg); fourth, a discussion of why we need to move from the scientific interdisciplinary approach to a practice-based interdisciplinary approach based on Bourdieu’s and Brightman’s ethnographic studies; and fifth, an explanation of why we need to advocate for new ways of understanding and discover the meaning of scientific environmental research and society for their potential advancement. I conclude with an argument that PIA can impact future environmental research and researchers, and encourage community practice within a critical academic framework.
2. Challenges with Scientific Interdisciplinary Approach (SIA) in Environmental Research
While the importance of a SIA has been widely recognised in environmental research, it is still very much concentrated within specific disciplinary areas, and the integration of interdisciplinary studies has become unusual in traditional fields of study [10
]. Despite some successes in educating the different disciplines to work collaboratively, the degree of SIA at present is insufficient and sporadic [6
]. There are a number of common challenges associated with SIA. Some of the significant challenges include: structural constraints, conceptual barriers, language and communication barriers, and challenges in scientific scholarly research trainings.
The structural constraints are one of the significant limitations for SIA. Studies [10
] claim that the interconnection between different disciplines is one of the major challenges for SIA. For example, in the late 1950s, Thomas Kuhn presented an analysis of what he called “the essential tension between tradition and innovation”, focusing, in the long run, on the issue of practice
]. His work provides the direction for interdisciplinary research to solve the many complex problems that face us in today’s society; however, the uneven implementation of many disciplinary scientists has made interdisciplinary studies a weak domain. Current tendencies of an interdisciplinary approach in the sciences and/or social sciences do not live up to Kuhn’s dreams of disciplinary collaborations or problem-oriented issues. Kuhn’s interdisciplinary forms of research involve collaboration on real-life issues/problems [14
]. These forms of collaboration are generally capable of understanding the reason for and value of adopting particular propositions. Without a focus on problems or everyday practice, SIA would never be initiated and, instead, monodisciplinary communities of highly specialised experts would remain isolated, unable to work on problems whose solutions transcend disciplinary boundaries. I agree with Kuhn that SIA cannot overcome structural constraints through old or new disciplinary tools unless it has a practice-based focus on solving problems [14
The conceptual contradictions present an important challenge in SIA. Despite increasing emphasis on SIA, the last 20 years have illustrated that integrating research disciplines to deal with complex nature/culture-related problems is far from unproblematic. For example, Sievanen et al. (2012) explain that conceptual barriers play a significant role in SIA, and they are raised from different perspectives: (i) researcher’s personal characteristics; (ii) the socio-institutional context within which the researcher acts, and (iii) the institutional system upon which the researcher is acting [15
]. Sievanen et al. (2012) explain conceptual barriers in SIA as: the different perspectives on conservation held by social and natural scientists; expectations by natural scientists about the results of social science research; a tendency by natural scientists to see social scientists primarily as educators, people who can remove political obstacles to change, or community facilitators, and outreach coordinators (as opposed to scholarly researchers); the social context in which biophysical science has developed (with humans seen as separate from nature); power dynamics in interdisciplinary teams; and a lack of shared understanding about what is meant by including humans [15
], (p. 2). According to Sievanen et al., SIA is not only more connected with institutional policies and purpose than practice or problem, but is also rooted in the institutional, political, and cultural contexts in which the projects are being implemented [14
]. Similarly, Stock and Burton (2011) suggest that the conceptual ambiguities within SIA researchers are a fundamental reason for the failure of integrated, practice-based research projects [15
]. The lack of practice-based research can create many ambiguities, such as: the basic lack of interdisciplinary infrastructure (e.g., lack of researchers trained in integrated research); the lack of a philosophical stance or epistemological and ontological incompatibilities; and the researcher’s political stand on a particular research issue [1
SIA’s limitations in language and communication have often been cited as significant barriers to environmental research. These hindrances are often informed by unannounced assumptions and affect project outcomes. It is the rare scholar who seeks to read outside his own discipline in search of new information and new metaphors that can increase the precision and comparability of their work [16
]. Wainwright (2010) makes a similar observation related to the discipline of geography’s involvement in climate change research—this is a domain where climate scientists advocate social changes without engaging with practice [17
Faculty and graduate students pursuing interdisciplinary problem-solving approaches often find themselves in departments or schools dominated by conventional disciplinary or multidisciplinary administrators and colleagues, a fact that presents career management challenges, insecurities, and personal and professional anxieties [18
]. There is a strong possibility that disciplinary-dominated SIA will lead to inflexibility and practice-less, theoretically based assumptions. A contextual understanding and analytical clarity is required to solve these problems so that students can manage their careers, as demonstrated by the different SIA challenges I faced in my PhD research training.
In addition to the above challenges, scientific scholarly training was one of the important challenges for my understanding and working on environmental research. As an environmental student, educator, and researcher, I have spent more than 15 years investigating the concept of environmental research. I was curious to know why environmental research in SIA is a contradictory and confused concept in environmental sustainability studies. We (my department colleagues and I) have had various debates in attempting to define SIA, including classroom discussions, group activities, Indigenous story-sharing circles, community gardening activities, weekly seminar talks, artwork, music, dance, and harvesting. For example, in our interdisciplinary school’s weekly seminars, we had different groups of people from different disciplines, including professionals and activists, who attempted to define the meanings of SIA for us (PhD and Masters students). Attempting to interconnect their views of SIA was very confusing. Most of the definitions were narrowly defined based on a disciplinary approach or profession. These separate approaches often came up in our seminar discussions; however, they were disconnected from participants’ everyday activities. Both discipline-oriented and profession-oriented SIA practitioners were busy explaining how they could create a more effective interdisciplinary approach. In this interdisciplinary PhD program, we felt that, in most cases, disciplinary and professional practices dominated; the local problems or issues, people and their community’s practice became secondary. Within these limitations, we often discussed unanswered questions: Why are we studying SIA if we cannot challenge disciplinary problems? What can we do if we cannot overcome disciplinary and professional practices? Is SIA simply a strategy for providing a license or certificate that will make a profit for universities or corporate companies?
My cross-cultural education, socialisation, and research with Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities guided my thoughts, inspired me to think differently, and challenged my Western scientific research training and education. My research into Foucault, Haraway, and Latour's contributions motivated me to think differently and to formulate an interdisciplinary approach that speaks for local people, issues, traditions, culture, and needs. I questioned how far we could progress if we were unable to create SIA from our everyday practices [13
5. How to Do Environmental Research “from and within” Practice?
For reconfiguring “from and within” practice is significant for environmental research. Although Foucault, Latour, and Haraway’s contributions add significant alternatives for understanding the nature
and science/society misconceptions in our SIA, despite their significance, they do not explain how various forms of realities (i.e., practices) coexist in their approaches. Without incorporating practice from and within, Foucault, Latour, and Haraway’s alternatives may create different forms of scientific illusions [49
]. Haraway’s concept of cyborg takes a bold step in collaborative post-structural science and social science studies by breaking down the science
scientific dichotomy and creating alternative possibilities; however, she could not overcome Western philosophical hegemony, as she did not take into account the Indigenous worldview in understanding relationships with nature [13
]. Therefore, her methodology lacks the holistic
view of relationships among humans and elements. She also falls short of practical engagements with things
. Practice-based IA integrates each person into a holistic worldview where everything is important and respectfully connected. In practice, nature is not a separate concept from culture, but rather mutually connected within our practice [23
]. Haraway, Foucault, and Latour explore the new forms of PIA, but they do not provide enough explanation as to how SIA can be put into practice or its political significance on a technoscientific project [13
]. However, I agree with Latour (2004) that both science and science studies need to be redefined [28
For reconfiguring environmental research, practice from and within, Bourdieu (1990) and Brightman’s (1993) ethnographic studies are significant [2
]. Although Bourdieu’s ethnographic study on a Kabyle community and Brightman’s contributions in a Cree community do not discuss Foucault, Haraway, and Latour’s worldview, they do provide a well-defined, collaborative understanding of nature in everyday practice. Therefore, adding Bourdieu and Brightman’s ethnographic studies to Foucault, Latour, and Haraway may be a departure point from Western scientific nature/culture illusions [13
]. Bourdieu and Brightman’s ethnographic contributions are more than significant additions to collaborative SIA (Foucault, Latour, and Haraway); they are substantial in redefining nature/culture from and within practice.
5.1. Bourdieu’s Logic of Practice
Bourdieu’s (1990) study, The Logic of Practice
, is the result of ethnographic fieldwork in Algeria. His practice-based work challenges our Western understanding of nature/culture [2
]. His work explores kinship patterns, the social construction of domestic space, social categories of perception and classification, as well as ritualised actions and exchanges. Bourdieu’s study is noteworthy for understanding collaborative approaches in practice. For example, for Bourdieu, a house is not just a building or a collection of walls. It has logical, relational meanings in everyday life: “The house is a world within a world” [2
], (p. 282). He explains that, in practice, actors are relationally engaged, not simply involved in stylised, differentiated interactions. According to Bourdieu (1990), a house has different parts (such as front door, back door, south wall, west wall, roof, and floor, along with front and back windows) and all of these sections have the capacity to act and influence human actors’ actions [2
]. House is a relational place and able to explain different actors, both human and non-human, and the social, economic, environmental, and cultural aspects of their roles.
First, a house is a social and a cultural space. For example, the front wall on the north side of a Kabyle house is a symbol of respect and youthful brightness. The front wall is also recognised as an entry onto the community. It is situated close to the front door and windows. This wall is full of light from the front window and door, and these sources of light are recognised as a light in the darkness. By contrast, the south wall is situated in a lower part of the house without a sufficient light source. This wall is recognised as a symbol of darkness. However, the back wall is no less important than the front wall. It is a symbol of protection and a regenerative space. For example, it is a place for both animal and human intercourse and childbirth. Intercourse and childbirth sustain our relationship with our ancestors, providing a connection between humans and animals and the current generation and its ancestors. Guests are treated with honour and are invited to sit near the front wall; however, a bad person or a sick person will be seated near the back wall so that their sickness and badness can be washed away. Similarly, a newlywed couple sits at the front door in order to receive the power of fertility and lengthy stability in their lives.
Secondly, the house is a place for environmental and economic activity. The inside and outside of a house have different environmental and economic influences. For example, during summer, the door is open for light; a closed door means sickness, death, dishonour, and unhappiness. Similarly, the outside of the house symbolises potential and community involvement. Outside is the inspiration for working hard in the field. Sitting inside a house during the summer is a symbol of laziness and disrespect. On the other hand, a woman inside a house is a symbol of decision-making and managerial powers.
Bourdieu’s theory is not simply a symbol of a collective group of actors; it displays how actors interact with each other according to everyday needs, culture, and relationships. The relational logic of everyday relationships is a significant part of the Kabyle community. For example, a man is viewed as daylight or sunlight, bringing brightness and economic stability, while a woman is compared to moonlight, symbolising protection for both humans and animals. Bourdieu says, “Woman are the foundation, man the master beam” [2
], (p. 275). As a result, Bourdieu’s study can be seen as a significant addition to redefine practice “from and within” in environmental research.
5.2. Brightman’s Concept of Rock
Brightman’s (1993) study of Canadian Cree Indigenous communities provides various insights into relationships between human and animals through his concept of a rock [3
]. For instance, Brightman shows that in the Cree
community, humans and animals occupy the same position through a rock. The rock has various meanings, such as respect, responsibility, dreams, reciprocity, regeneration, famine, hunting, and so on. For Brightman, a rock can be both human and animal. Relationships in the Cree
community’s daily life interactions are influenced by their culture. A rock in the Cree
community becomes a tool for identifying how a person can be successful in their material life, while a bad dream can symbolise a threat. Hence, Brightman defines rock as “sources of knowledge” [3
], (p. 76) and spirituality is incorporated into the Cree
meaning of nature
For Brightman, science
are multidimensional, more complicated than the SIA interpretation of nature
. In Cree traditions, rock was the original owner of culture before humans [31
]. Brightman agrees that the Cree have a nature
dualism similar to the Western one, but they “will not be replaced
” by each other [3
], (p. 42). He explains that a rock is a powerful entity in understanding Cree
meanings of culture
and a symbol of success, power, blessings, welfare, and selection rights. He points out that rock as relationship is beyond the nature
, science/society dichotomies; practice needs to see within culture, needs, and values. For him, from-and-within practice perspectives, science
, and society
are not separate, but rather connected as part of our responsibility for self, animal, family, and society [3
Underpinning this paper is an understanding of the potential tensions between differences in SIA and PIA in environmental research. It is therefore necessary to have a clear conceptualisation of these tensions in order to understand how interdisciplinary research manages to overcome them. As I have demonstrated from Foucault, Haraway, and Latour’s collaborative contributions, a practice-based approach is able to produce new and critical accounts of environmental research, and of the knowledge underpinning it. Specifically, by “decentring” the concepts of actors, our research intension, and knowledge towards practice, PIA is from and within the community, and is able to go beyond dichotomies of science/culture, thinking/doing, technology/society, and representations/reality.
For redefining environmental research from PIA, Foucault, Latour, and Haraway’s collaborative contributions can create a significant transformation in PIA. For instance, Foucault’s heterotopia
opens up a new way of examining historical constructions. He questions the way in which theories and knowledge are conditioned by certain historical axioms. Foucault’s discourses offer different subjective positions and define who is allowed to use certain languages (for instance, ecology, biology, and environmental science). Latour (1998, 2004) explicitly explained conceptual ambiguities in SIA. He not only questions our ideas of nature, but also our idea of being human [27
]. Like Haraway’s cyborg (1991), Latour (1998, 2004) claims that a person cannot be understood as a free and autonomous being because of their relationships with things
, natural objects, and much more than that [13
]. His position therefore implies a confrontation with humanism in its singular definitive form. Latour argues that political ecology has nothing to do with nature
as such, and political ecology has never been about nature unsullied by human hands. Instead, he says it is about infinite ties or connections that always include human participation in one form or another.
Therefore, for Latour, it is not about nature
, but rather the complicated relationships between things: “regulations, equipment, consumers, institutions, habits, cows and pigs” [44
], (p. 229). Haraway’s (1991) extraordinary contributions on cyborg helps us to understand conceptual contradiction in SIA [13
]. Haraway asserts that, “Biology tells about origins, about genesis, and about nature
], (p. 72). Haraway’s cyborgs are metaphors of the breakdown of the systems of duality. She not only deconstructs the nature
dichotomy, she also re-envisions reality from her cyborg perspective. Haraway’s meanings of cyborgs are neither technology nor nature
, woman nor man, human nor machine, one nor many; instead they fit into both with multiple qualities. In A Cyborg Manifesto
, Haraway develops the figure of the cyborg in order to offer an alternative means of discussing nature
in a postmodern technological age. Haraway's cyborg exceeds the boundaries of both science and social science studies, rejects universalism and totalising theory, all of which she contends are foundations of patriarchy. As a hybrid (animal–human) machine, the cyborg nullifies organic holism and the Western myth of an origin story. As a postmodern feminist, Haraway fits her cyborg theory into an anti-essentialist tradition [13
Foucault, Latour, and Haraway together
have enormous potential.
Their collective contributions question our basic assumptions of the science and society dichotomy and challenge the scientific model. They connect various non-human elements—such as animals, plants, parasites, and other organisms—with things
, but their relationships and spirituality are not addressed from a holistic
understanding of nature
. Moreover, Latour admits that the networks of relationships do not cover all that is palpable. Indeed, there is much to the world that simply is unknown. “The world is not a solid continent of facts speckled by a few islands of calibrated and stabilized forms” [26
], (p. 245). Haraway’s perspective bears a remarkable resemblance to many post-structuralist ideas; however, since she considers human, animal, and nature
as Western phenomena, she fails to understand an Indigenous holistic
approach, misunderstanding how to see and communicate with things
and how to find the meaning stemming from Indigenous worldviews. According to Haraway, technology or technoscience is part of human and animal relationships, and this technoscience creates dependency; it is an illusion. I agree that technoscientific structure undermines things
, human, animals, rocks, and spirituality [13
], but her ontology does not have the power to change our idea of what it means to be things
Although Foucault, Latour, and Haraway’s concepts (heterotopia
, and cyborg
) are helpful to unpack the conceptual contradictions in SIA, their phenomenal works do not explicitly lead us to explore how to incorporate community’s practice into science research as fluid, live, and effective ways. Alone, Foucault’s concept of Heterotopia
does not answer the question of which forces nature is connected to in today’s world. It is not possible for Foucauldian knowledge to describe the preconditions for technoscientific culture, because it is conditional and restricted and is always speaking from within [27
]. Therefore, Foucault describes only those discourses and practices that have ceased to be our own. Latour’s concept of things
can be lined up with Haraway’s concept of cyborgs in overcoming Foucault’s limitations [28
]. Latour adds a multiplicity of elements, pointing out that knowledge and thought should not be seen as simply mental activity; rather, they are the coming together of heterogeneous human and non-human elements [28
For Bourdieu and Brightman, ethnographic examples are affiliated with various creatures, gods, and spirituality. These affinities have enough potential to transgress SIA theoretical phenomenology; everyday practice is also able to create collaborative meanings for things
. Bourdieu and Brightman’s practice-based ethnographical studies in conjunction with Foucault, Haraway, and Latour not only enlarge our various ways of understanding PIA but also help us to move beyond technoscientific SIA illusions. Haraway’s cyborgs resemble humans, as they live in hierarchies and are not apart from living organisms and machines, whereas Brightman shows that the Cree paradigm denies hierarchies among such things as human and animal relationships. We must instead conceive a system of collaborative engagement. For Brightman, local knowledge, relationships, spirituality, and humans are not in opposition to the natural world. It is what unites them, despite all their differences. Foucault, Latour, and Haraway open an interdisciplinary door by saying that “All readings are also mis-readings, re-readings, partial readings, imposed readings and imagined readings of a text that is originally and finally simply never there” [13
], (p. 124).
Within a collaborative and fluid sense of environmental research in PIA, processes and interactions are thus the results of interpretation, improvisation, and performance, and this is done through bodily movements, discursive and emotional expressions, and things and artefacts “on the stage” [1
]. The interaction between the people, their practice, science, and policy-makers is crucial. Hence, environmental research in PIA has consequences that are inevitably situational, multidimensional, fluid, and therefore unpredictable. Logic of PIA offers a more realistic model for understanding human behaviour and environmental change [2
]. By adding practice to the interdisciplinary process already in progress, our job may be to discuss, critique, and discover.