Trading Zones in Environmental Education

Creating Transdisciplinary Dialogue

by Marianne E. Krasny (Volume editor) Justin Dillon (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook XXXIX, 279 Pages


Environmental educators often adhere to a relatively narrow theoretical paradigm focusing on changing attitudes and knowledge, which are assumed to foster pro-environmental behaviors, which, in turn, leads to better environmental quality. This book takes a different approach to trying to understand how environmental education might influence people, their communities, and the environment. The authors view changing environmental behaviors as a «wicked» problem, that is, a problem that does not readily lend itself to solutions using existing disciplinary approaches. The book as a whole opens up new avenues for pursuing environmental education research and practice and thus expands the conversation around environmental education, behaviors, and quality. Through developing transdisciplinary research questions and conceptual paradigms, this book also suggests new practices beyond those currently used in environmental education, natural resources management, and other environmental fields.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be Cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. Tales of a Transdisciplinary Scholar: Marianne E. Krasny
  • Is Changing Environmental Behavior a “Wicked” Problem?
  • Approaches Used in Addressing Wicked Problems
  • Cross-Disciplinary Research
  • Systems Thinking and Adaptive Management
  • Participatory Research
  • Transdisciplinary Research
  • The Process of Creating This Book
  • Methods: “Arranged Marriages”
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Section I. Participation
  • Section II. Appreciation
  • Section III. Place
  • Afternote
  • References
  • Section I. Participation
  • Chapter 1. Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Participation: Joseph E. Heimlich and Mary Miss
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Participation in Environmental Education: Crossing Boundaries under the Big Tent: Jeppe Læssøe and Marianne E. Krasny
  • Introduction
  • Traditions of Participation in Environmental Education
  • Participation as Encounters with Nature
  • Participation as Social Learning
  • Participation as Action
  • Participation as Deliberative Dialogue
  • Types of Participation Summary
  • Case Examples of Overlapping Types of Participation in EE
  • Local Citizen Participation in Times of Ecological Modernization in Denmark
  • U.S. Civic Ecology Practices and Civic Ecology Education
  • Models for Transboundary Participation
  • Nested Participation
  • Linked or Coupled Participation
  • Sequential Participation
  • Expanding Participation
  • Transboundary Participation Models Summary
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Building Capacity for Community-Based Natural Resource Management with Environmental Education: Martha C. Monroe and Shorna Broussard Allred
  • Introduction
  • Engaging Participants
  • Building Capacity
  • Evaluating Processes and Outcomes
  • Taking Environmental Education to Community Level
  • EE Can Contribute to CBNRM
  • Merging and Blending
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Learning and Knowing in Pursuit of Sustainability: Concepts and Tools for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research: Scott Peters and Arjen E. J. Wals
  • Introduction
  • Grounding Scenario: The Marcellus Shale
  • Reorienting Higher Education in the Face of (Un)Sustainability
  • Learning in a Risk Society
  • A Learning Ecology
  • Practical Theory Building
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Inquiry, Models, and Complex Reasoning to Transform Learning in Environmental Education: Barbara A. Crawford and Rebecca Jordan
  • Conceptions of Environmental, Ecological, and Scientific Literacy
  • Why Models?
  • Models and Our Disciplines: Who We Are
  • Models and Modeling from Our Practice
  • Systems and Cycles
  • Fossil Finders
  • Supporting Modeling in Educational Practice
  • Modeling to Transform Our Research
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Section II. Appreciation
  • Chapter 6. Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Appreciation: Joseph E. Heimlich and Mary Miss
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 7. The Emotional Life of the Environmental Educator: John Fraser and Carol B. Brandt
  • Introduction
  • Examining the Emotional Power of Narrative in Environmental Education
  • A Cassandra Complex
  • Emotional Work in Environmental Education: Stress and Depression
  • Emotions and Educational Research
  • Implicating the Environmental Education Knowledge Culture
  • Emotional Labor in Environmental Education
  • Scientism as a Source of Frustration
  • Navigating the Emotional Headwaters
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 8. Psychological Resilience, Uncertainty, and Biological Conservation: Junctures Between Emotional Knowledges, Nature Experiences, and Environmental Education: Leesa Fawcett and Janis L. Dickinson
  • Introduction
  • The Complex Roots of Anthropocentrism
  • Psychohistorical Perspectives on Nature and Culture
  • Nature as Vital to Human Development: The Psychological and Developmental Importance of Nature Connections
  • Emotional and Psychological Experiences of Nature as a Double-Edged Sword: Grief, Loss, and Fear
  • Emotions and Mental Barriers: A Perspective from Secular Buddhist Psychology
  • Transforming Our Relationship with Nature: The Emotional Context of Environmental Issues
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Section III. Place
  • Chapter 9. Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Place: Joseph E. Heimlich and Mary Miss
  • References
  • Chapter 10. Disturbances in Urban Social-Ecological Systems: Niche Opportunities for Environmental Education: Timon McPhearson and Keith G. Tidball
  • Primary Questions
  • Environmental Literacy in Crisis
  • An Ecological Identity
  • The Urban System
  • Disturbances in Complex Social-Ecological Systems
  • Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems
  • Environmental Education in Social-Ecological Systems
  • Urban Environmental Disasters Create Niches in SESs
  • September 11, 2001: The New York City Case Study
  • Hurricane Katrina: The New Orleans Case Study
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Chapter 11. Mobility, Power, and Scale in Place-Based Environmental Education: Richard C. Stedman and Nicole M. Ardoin
  • Introduction
  • Environmental Education and Sense of Place
  • The “Where” and “Who” of Place-Based Education: Questioning the Local
  • Cosmopolitan Mobility and Attachment
  • Toward Reflexive Considerations of Place: Research Questions and Methods
  • Research Questions
  • Toward a Research Approach
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Conclusion. Do “Arranged Marriages” Generate Novel Insights?: Marianne E. Krasny, Megan K. Halpern, Bruce V. Lewenstein and Justin Dillon
  • Preamble
  • Introduction
  • Transdisciplinary Experience at the Workshop
  • Purpose of the Project
  • Recurring Themes
  • Recurring Metaphors
  • Nature of Transdisciplinarity
  • Group Process Issues
  • Transdisciplinary Experience during Chapter Writing
  • Did the Project Attain Its Goal?
  • Research and Practice Implications
  • References
  • Index


We thank JoAnne Getchonis, Lars Rudstam, Randy Jackson, and the maintenance staff of the Cornell University Biological Field Station at Shackelton Point, Oneida Lake, for their warm hospitality in hosting our weekend transdisciplinary research workshop. We sincerely thank Shuli Rank for her tireless and cheerful formatting over many months. We also thank the editorial and production staff at Peter Lang. This volume was funded by the Cornell University Institute for the Social Sciences. In addition, the work was supported by a joint research and extension program funded by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (Hatch funds) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (Smith Lever funds) received from the National Institutes for Food and Agriculture (NIFA,) U.S. Department of Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

← vii | viii → ← viii | ix →


Tales of a Transdisciplinary Scholar

Marianne E. Krasny

Is Changing Environmental Behavior a “Wicked” Problem?

More than 20 years after the historic Belgrade and Tbilisi meetings defining environmental education (UNESCO 1975, 1977), Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) posed the question: “Why do people act environmentally, and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior?” In particular, they wondered why people who are environmentally knowledgeable and aware often fail to display pro-environmental behaviors. After reviewing the evidence for predictive models in environmental education, including those positing linear pathways from knowledge to attitudes to behavior, as well as those emphasizing altruism, empathy, and pro-social behaviors, they concluded, “the question of what shapes pro-environmental behavior is such a complex one that it cannot be visualized in one single framework or diagram. Such a single diagram with all the factors that shape and influence behavior would be so complicated that it would lose its practicality and probably even its meaning” (Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002, 248). Similarly, Steg and Vlek (2009) and Heimlich and Ardoin (2008) reviewed multiple lines of research attempting to predict environmental behaviors, including those focusing on cost/benefit analysis, moral and normative concerns or values, self-efficacy, social marketing, social learning, and emotion. Whereas each model was useful in some situations, the authors found neither a unified predictive model ← ix | x → that explained environmental behaviors in multiple contexts, nor an explanation of which models might be most useful in a given situation.

A number of authors have recognized that environmental problems are complex and extremely difficult to resolve. For example, Blackmore (2007) talks about air-, water-, and land-based “resource dilemmas” that arise under conditions of uncertainty, where stakeholders have competing claims yet are interdependent, and where the problem does not lend itself readily to measuring or monitoring. Ludwig (2001) has characterized environmental problems, such as species and ecosystem conservation and global climate change, as “wicked problems.” By “wicked,” scholars refer not to the evil nature of environmental problems, but to their complexity, intractability, and severity.

In their seminal paper published following a period of rampant social upheaval in the United States, Rittel and Webber (1973) point out that a diverse society faces a huge set of “wicked” social and environmental problems that, unlike “tame” problems such as determining the chemical composition of a substance, are not readily solved using recognized scientific methods. A fundamental characteristic of wicked problems is the lack of agreement in problem definition. This raises the question of whether such problems can ever have solutions. Instead, Rittel and Webber (1973) argue that we must be satisfied with “re-solutions,” which are subject to constant change as new information becomes available, and which are determined in large part by how such problems are framed (e.g., are negative environmental behaviors a problem at the level of the individual, the family or community, or government policy?). Further, resolving such problems necessarily implies an intervention based on a hypothesized solution, yet any resolution of a wicked problem will have repercussions that may be unpredictable. Importantly, wicked problems cannot be separated from issues of justice, equity, and the public good, which themselves are disputed in a diverse society. Tidball and Weinstein (2012), in reviewing the notion of wicked problems within the context of environmental security, posit four attributes of such problems: The problem center cannot be identified (i.e., change within one system results in changes in other systems); stakeholders hold different views; resources and constraints change over time; and the problem resists efforts to be changed via top-down command. All four of these attributes would seem to apply to the problem of changing environmental behaviors.

The language Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) use to describe research on environmental education and pro-environmental behaviors—including complexity and models with factors that are broadly and vaguely defined, are ← x | xi → interrelated, and lack clear boundaries—is similar to the language used to depict wicked problems. Thus, in that environmental education attempts to change environmental behaviors, one might consider the field of environmental education as addressing a wicked problem. Ample evidence exists that environmental education stakeholders often fail to agree on the problem definition. Witness the sometimes acrimonious debates between those purporting a more instrumental view of environmental education as a means to teach environmentally sound behaviors and those who hold a more emancipatory view espousing environmental education as a means for individuals to realize their own abilities for personal growth and decision making (Jickling and Spork 1998; Fien 2000; Wals et al. 2008). Recently, the field has expanded to include researchers and programs that focus on youth development goals (Schusler and Krasny 2010), environmental quality as a direct outcome of environmental education (Short 2010; Johnson et al. 2012), and social-ecological systems resilience (Krasny and Tidball 2009; Krasny et al. 2010). Further, even within a particular domain of environmental education, it may be difficult to define the end point. Is an individual who produces all her own food yet drives an hour to work and has five children displaying pro-environmental behaviors? How about someone who is active politically yet does not bother to recycle? Or the person who goes backpacking and is a big consumer of outdoor high-tech equipment? In short, not only is the predictive power of models explaining environmental behaviors, including those focusing on knowledge and attitudes (Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002), weak, but environmental education lacks commonly agreed-upon indicators for even its most fundamental goal: fostering pro-environmental behaviors (Steg and Vlek 2009).

Approaches Used in Addressing Wicked Problems

Given all this uncertainty, scientists, scholars of social studies of science, and planners have sought alternative approaches to conducting science and incorporating science into policy making. For example, Rittel and Webber (1973) laid out a possible path forward in broad terms: “In such fields of ill-defined problems and hence ill-definable solutions, the set of feasible plans of action relies on realistic judgment, the capability to appraise ‘exotic’ ideas and on the amount of trust and credibility between planner and clientele that will lead to the conclusion, ‘OK let’s try that’” (164). Similarly, Brown et al. (2010) speak to the role of imagination in addressing the paradoxes, uncer ← xi | xii → tainty, and complexity that characterize wicked problems, and in overcoming the cultural limitations on the ways we think within our various disciplines. Muro and Jeffrey (2008) propose more deliberative, democratic approaches to wicked problems within the context of sustainable development, with a particular focus on social learning.

It is interesting to note that Rittel and Webber published their treatise on wicked problems in 1973, at about the same time as several seminal developments were occurring in environmental education. Just two years later, the Belgrade Commission Report (UNESCO 1975) defined the goal of environmental education as “develop[ing] a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations and commitment to work individually and collectively toward solutions to current problems, and the prevention of new ones.” Similarly focusing on knowledge, attitudes, and behavior, the Tbilisi Declaration (UNESCO 1977) two years later stated that the goals of environmental education are: “1. to foster clear awareness of, and concern about, economic, social, political, and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas; 2. to provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment, and skills needed to protect and improve the environment; and 3. to create new patterns of behavior of individuals, groups, and society as a whole towards the environment.” Further, in 1971, just two years before the notion of wicked problems was introduced, the North American Association for Environmental Education was founded. Thus, the international recognition, expansion, and beginnings of the professionalization of environmental education as a field of practice and research coincided with the recognition of wicked problems in the social, environmental, and policy sciences.

Environmental scientists and scholars of the social studies of science have proposed several approaches to addressing wicked problems, including cross-disciplinary research (Eigenbrode et al. 2007; Hirsch Hadorn et al. 2008), systems thinking and adaptive management (Berkes and Folke 1998; Holling and Gunderson 2002; Armitage et al. 2007), and participatory research (Roling and Wagemakers 1998). Below, I briefly describe each of these approaches and how they are already being integrated into environmental education; then I delve more deeply into how one form of cross-disciplinary research, transdisciplinary, has revealed definitions and principles that can be applied to environmental education. ← xii | xiii →

Cross-Disciplinary Research

Eigenbrode et al. (2007) identified three levels of integration in cross-disciplinary work. Multidisciplinary research is designed to address a problem pertaining to a single system, and is conducted by scientists from different disciplines; interpretation of the results from different disciplines often occurs post hoc, and from the perspective of one dominating discipline. Interdisciplinary research requires a greater degree of coordination among disciplines, leading to synthetic research questions and data analysis and interpretation, and new questions and methodologies. In transdisciplinary research, problems are jointly formulated, and collaborators adopt unique epistemological perspectives distinct from those of their individual disciplines. Both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research require concerted efforts on the part of scientists to understand differences among research traditions in the societal context of research, perceived nature of the world, attitudes toward reductionist versus holistic science, and appropriate standards for validation of evidence.

As the chair of a university natural resources department whose faculty includes mathematical modelers, biophysical scientists, ecologists, social scientists, and humanities scholars, I experience the challenges of cross-disciplinary research in my everyday professional life. My graduate students also face these challenges when they give a departmental seminar and are grilled by those holding different views on what constitutes appropriate questions and standards of evidence. Fellow Cornell professor and chair of the interdisciplinary Department of Neurobiology and Behavior Tom Seeley has developed a unique way to approach similar challenges. Drawing from a long career researching the social behavior of insects, Seeley claims that honeybees have evolved a “democratic” system for making life-and-death decisions about where to swarm and construct their next nest. Individual bees in a swarm gather information, share their knowledge, and attempt to persuade others in the colony (via a waggle dance), and they “respectfully” consider each dancer’s “opinion.” In his book Honeybee Democracy (2010) Seeley goes on to talk about how he applies principles garnered from observing the behavior of social insects to running an academic department; for example, he encourages information gathering and sharing and respecting diverse perspectives. Whereas the decisions Seeley describes relate to academic departments, his ideas about individuals gathering and sharing information and respecting differences are equally applicable to interdisciplinary ← xiii | xiv → and transdisciplinary research teams. It should not go unnoticed that Seeley’s thinking is itself intriguingly cross-disciplinary in that he applies research on social behavior of insects to the psychology of academics.

Various forms of cross-disciplinary collaboration are not foreign to environmental education, and in fact have framed major turning points in the professionalization of the discipline. For example, Marcinkowski (2010) describes how the highly regarded Guidelines for Excellence in Environmental Education was a response to the confusing array of disciplinary perspectives and the need for professional standards. While not specifically mentioning interdisciplinary research, Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) propose a model for influencing environmental behaviors that encompasses the political, social, cultural, and economic sciences. Similarly, Steg and Vlek (2009) cite the need for interdisciplinary collaboration between environmental science and environmental education in the context of changing and assessing interventions to promote energy saving: “Interdisciplinary collaboration is needed to effectively address these issues, because environmental problems are not just psychological problems; they are also ecological, technological, and socio-cultural problems” (315).

In addition to employing interdisciplinary approaches in developing models to predict environmental behavior, various disciplines may be integrated to broaden our understanding of potential outcomes of environmental education. A number of my graduate students and colleagues have synthesized literature and theoretical perspectives from different disciplines to address potential outcomes of environmental education, including youth development (Schusler and Krasny 2010), environmental sociology and sense of place (Kudryavtsev et al. 2011; Kudryavtsev et al. 2012), social-ecological systems resilience (Krasny and Tidball 2009), and memory studies (Liddicoat and Krasny 2012). Together with colleagues in curriculum studies and resource management, I have edited a volume that brings together scholars of social-ecological systems resilience, learning theory, and environmental education to present frameworks for integrating social learning theory from natural resources management and education to examine individual-, community-, and ecosystem-level outcomes of environmental education (Krasny et al. 2011). We currently are applying such thinking to the design and implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Training Program. Through these and related projects, Cornell’s Civic Ecology Lab hopes to stimulate novel thinking and approaches to environmental education research and practice. ← xiv | xv →

Systems Thinking and Adaptive Management

Holling et al.’s (1998) seminal work on adaptive management can be applied to address wicked problems. Holling and colleagues describe how social-ecological systems cycle through phases of growth, conservation, collapse, and reorganization, and emphasize the role of information about outcomes of practices, or feedbacks from the social-ecological system being managed and studied, in maintaining the system’s capacity to adapt to change. “Adaptive co-management” refers to resource management systems that include stakeholder collaboration in addition to adaptation based on feedback (Armitage et al. 2007). Building on this work, several authors have described the importance of social learning to adaptive co-management, i.e., collective monitoring of resource management outcomes and reflexively applying results to adapt practices (Pahl-Wostl and Hare 2004; Blackmore et al. 2007; Plummer and FitzGibbon 2007).

The Center for Ecological Literacy and its founder, Fritzof Capra, have been a consistent voice for the importance of teaching systems thinking in environmental education (Stone et al. 2005). Others, including Louise Chawla (2008) and Wolff-Michael Roth (2003), have taken an ecological or systems view of learning, writing not just about how context and programs impact behaviors but also about how behaviors impact the learning context. Building on this work and that of systems scholars, my Cornell colleague Keith Tidball and I, in our paper “Toward an Ecology of Environmental Education and Learning,” have looked at potential interactions of environmental education programs and learning with other elements and processes in a broader resource management system (Tidball and Krasny 2011).

This body of work suggests the need to continuously monitor the outcomes of our environmental education practices, and to adapt educational practices based on such feedback. Further, it suggests that environmental education should be viewed as part of a larger system of resource management, and that scholars should seek linkages with other system “elements” (e.g., community-based organizations focusing on restoration and community revitalization, university research) and processes (e.g., virtuous cycles of environmental and community renewal) so as to expand the potential impact of any one effort. In short, environmental education as a field that addresses the “wicked” problem of changing environmental behaviors, and as part of a larger group of practices seeking to enhance environmental well-being, (1) needs to continually “re-solve” the issues it addresses and how it addresses ← xv | xvi → them (Rittel and Webber 1973), and (2) should avoid operating as an island in the sea of other social-ecological system elements and processes (Tidball and Krasny 2011).

Participatory Research

According to Ludwig (2001), “We need to change our approach to complicated environmental problems. There are no experts on these problems, nor can there be. Instead, we should establish and maintain a dialogue among the various interested parties. In principle, that includes all of us.” He continues: “Scientists can be most effective if they make their results accessible to interested laypersons. We must acknowledge the importance of ethics and social justice in environmental problems. They cannot be resolved without the participation of those most affected. In fact, a satisfactory resolution may well hinge on special sorts of local knowledge and institutions that will only become available if local people are welcomed as active and influential participants” (Ludwig 2001, 763).

Ludwig’s call for broadening participation in research to address wicked problems is echoed by scholars in sustainable development and resource management (Roling and Wagemakers 1998; Leeuwis and Pyburn 2002; Shirk et al. 2012). Participation is also a major theme in environmental education practice (Hart 1992, 2008; Stapp et al. 1996; Jensen and Schnack 1997; Mordock and Krasny 2001; Doyle and Krasny 2003; Mannion 2003; Chawla 2008; Reid et al. 2008; Schusler et al. 2009; Læssøe 2010; see also Læssøe and Krasny, Monroe and Allred in this volume). Drawing from the participatory action research literature (Hickey and Mohan 2004), and with support from various scholars of this approach including Davydd Greenwood, Louise Fortner, and Scott Peters, several of my graduate students have experimented with participatory approaches to environmental education research. Most notably, Alex Kudryavtsev lived and worked in the Bronx, collaborating with youth development professionals to support their environmental education programs and define research questions of mutual interest. (Alex’s questions ended up focusing on the role of environmental educational in fostering an urban sense of place). Similarly, graduate student Jesse Delia worked in collaboration with a nonprofit organization to help mentor students and to define research questions focused on youth development and critical pedagogy of place. These and other students have developed narrative and related qualitative as well as quantitative survey ← xvi | xvii → approaches that contribute to our understanding of environmental education while also building capacity among participating environmental educators.

Transdisciplinary Research

Above, I suggest that cross-disciplinary, systems, and participatory approaches all have the potential to address environmental education and changing environmental behaviors as wicked problems. In this book project, co-editor Justin Dillon and I hoped to spur a group of researchers to think more broadly than the knowledge, attitudes, and behavior approaches that frame much of the way we think about and practice environmental education. In short, we chose not to attempt to directly address issues regarding environmental behaviors, but rather to try to foster more expansive and creative thinking and approaches in environmental education that may eventually lead to novel “re-solutions” of the wicked problems (Rittel and Weber 1973) environmental education seeks to address. Because transdisciplinary approaches can be instrumental in fostering new kinds of thinking, we chose to facilitate a dialogue among researchers across disciplines.

It is interesting to note that similar to the professionalization of environmental education and to thinking about wicked problems, transdisciplinary thinking and research can trace their beginnings to the early 1970s. In fact, one of the early attempts at transdisciplinary research came from the environmental sector. In their insightful volume The Handbook of Transdisciplinary Research, Hirsch Hadorn et al. (2008) point to the launching of the Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1971 as a significant development in the movement away from disciplinary and expert-driven models of science. According to Messerli and Messerli (2008), “In the late 1960s, outstanding strategic thinkers in UNESCO realized the growing imbalance between human activities and the environment. As a consequence the rather discipline oriented International Biological Programme (IBP) was replaced in 1971 by the integrative Man and the Biosphere Programme (MaB)” (44). This led to the funding of a number of interdisciplinary research projects, such as the Swiss Socio-Economic Development and Ecological Carrying Capacity in a Mountainous Region initiative, which stimulated transdisciplinary research and played a role in its evolution over nearly 40 years. Two other important landmarks in this evolution were the 1992 Rio Conference and the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, which stressed the need to transform research by in ← xvii | xviii → volving stakeholders in mutual learning between science and the life- (real) world (Hirsch Hadorn et al. 2008).

It is important to note that definitions of transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research are not consistent among social studies of science scholars. Whereas Eigenbrode et al. (2007) distinguish transdisciplinary from interdisciplinary by the former’s more intensive attempts to synthesize disciplinary perspectives, Hirsch Hadorn et al.’s (2008) definition of transdisciplinary research is more like Eigenbrode et al.’s interdisciplinary research in that it does not necessarily involve the creation of new languages and forms of analysis. Further, and importantly, Hirsch Hadorn et al.’s definition encompasses crossing boundaries between scientists and practitioners in addition to crossing disciplinary boundaries. So a transdisciplinary research team in Hirsch Hadorn et al.’s scheme would include researchers from multiple disciplines as well as resource stakeholders who bring practical knowledge and concerns about equity, with the purpose of solving real-world problems for the common good. Echoing the earlier discussion about wicked problems, Hirsch Hadorn et al. (2008) argue that “(t)ransdisciplinary research is needed when knowledge about a societally relevant problem field is uncertain, when the concrete nature of problems is disputed, and when there is a great deal at stake for those concerned by problems and involved in dealing with them” (35). Similarly, Uiterkamp and Vlek (2007), Elzinga (2008), and Hollaender et al. (2008) emphasize the importance of transdisciplinarity to solving societally relevant problems. For example:

Transdisciplinarity represents a set of lively interactions between scientists on the one hand, and representatives of industry, government, and/or civil society on the other. For scientific researchers transdisciplinarity means “reaching out to society.” For members of government, industry, and civil organizations it means maintaining contact with science and seeking scientific support and advice whenever needed. This may deepen society’s understanding of complex (policy) problems and may prevent the selection of too limited and/or biased problem solutions. (Uiterkamp and Vlek 2007, 177)

According to Hirsch Hadorn et al. (2008), transdisciplinary research has evolved to address four core concerns in environmental and other disciplines concerned with wicked problems: the need to address life-world or real world problems, transcending and integrating disciplinary paradigms, participatory research, and the search for unity of knowledge beyond disciplines. They go on to state, “while the first two concerns are widely shared, there is disagree ← xviii | xix → ment over whether, and to what extent participatory research is needed for taking into account societal views in investigation issues. There is even more disagreement about the importance of the search for unity of knowledge in addressing issues in the life-world” (Hirsch Hadorn et al. 2008, 29). These disagreements seem to apply equally well to environmental education as to the environmental issues that are the focus of the chapters in Hirsch Hadorn et al. (2008). Whereas environmental education researchers would undoubtedly agree that participatory approaches are needed, journal articles reporting the results of environmental education research rarely describe participatory research approaches. The search for unity of knowledge echoes E.O. Wilson’s (1998) controversial writings about consilience. Because of Wilson’s privileging of the physical and biological over the social sciences, the idea of consilience, or unity of knowledge, has raised the ire of a number of social scientists. In fact, when I proposed using the word consilience in the title of this book, one contributor threatened to withdraw from the project if I did not change the name.

An alternative to notions of the unity of knowledge is work on social innovations, which suggests that bringing together diverse perspectives enables the emergence of novel ideas and solutions to problems (The Young Foundation 2006; Moore and Westley 2011). These ideas are supported by the work of Galison (1999), who, drawing from his observations of experimental and theoretical physics and from the field of anthropology, described “trading zones” among scientists holding different ontologies. Trading zones are spaces where

despite the differences in classification, significance, and standards of demonstration, the two groups can collaborate. They can come to a consensus about the procedure of exchange, about the mechanisms to determine when the goods are “equal” to one another. They can even both understand that the continuation of exchange is a prerequisite to the survival of the larger culture of which they are part. (Galison 1999, 146)

Collins et al. (2007) define trading zones to “denote any kind of interdisciplinary partnership in which two or more perspectives are combined and a new, shared language develops” (657). They distinguish trading zones along two axes: collaboration (cooperative or coerced) and end state (heterogeneous or homogeneous culture). In the cooperative/homogenous quadrant, new disciplines and “creole” languages may emerge, a notion that brings to mind Eigenbrode et al.’s (2007) definition of transdisciplinary research. According ← xix | xx → to Collins et al. (2007), their two-dimensional analysis of trading zones shows first

that there is not just one best way of organizing interdisciplinary collaborations and that, even within the same collaboration, different relationships will develop at different times. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, thinking about trading zones as places where cultures meet, languages are learned and tacit knowledge shared, emphasizes the difficult and time-consuming nature of the work. (Collins et al. 2007, 665)

An important component of trading zones is boundary objects, or ideas or artifacts that have different meanings for different actors but are stable enough to enable communication (Star and Griesemer 1989, Collins et al. 2007). They can be tangible, such as a map with different layers or meanings for different stakeholders, or intangible, such as constructs (e.g., natural capital, sustainable development, cf. Gough 2006) or theoretical models such as those proposed by Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) and Steg and Vlek (2009) for environmental education.

The notion of trading zones allows us to envision transdisciplinary research as a means to generate dialogue, sometimes around boundary objects and other times more generally about different perspectives, with the goal of enabling novel ideas and approaches to emerge. At first, these ideas and approaches may be peripheral to dialogue and research in any one field, but over time they can become central. For example, over the last 40 years, transdisciplinary work has stimulated more integrated social-ecological systems approaches to environmental research that increasingly have gained favor in natural resources scholarship and management (Liu et al. 2007).

The Process of Creating This Book

The notion of transdisciplinary research as a form of trading zone that expands perspectives is the basis for this edited volume (see Textbox 1, below). We envisioned the process of writing this book—i.e., pairing writers from environmental education and related disciplines and assigning them the task of finding some sort of common ground that would serve as the basis for a book chapter—as an exploration and experiment in the transdisciplinary process. I briefly describe the process below, and then present images with captions that each co-author pair created to capture the essence of their chapter. More detailed treatment of the transdisciplinary process of and novel perspectives generated by writing the chapters can be found in the conclusion. ← xx | xxi →

Textbox 1. Book Problem Statement and Proposed Solutions (As Shared with Book Co-Authors Prior to Writing Chapters)

The field of environmental education (EE) seeks solutions to environmental and related social problems, but has been only marginally successful in reaching its goals of enhancing environmental quality through changing environmental behaviors (Short 2010). One possible barrier to the ability of EE to reach its goals is its adherence to a relatively narrow theoretical paradigm focusing on changing attitudes and knowledge, which in turn are assumed to change behaviors. This paradigm is widely reflected in EE practice.

One potential way to address this barrier is to facilitate conversations among EE researchers and researchers from other environmental and education fields (e.g., natural resources management, environmental sociology, environmental engineering and art, conservation psychology). Given what we know about the need for cross-disciplinary research linking the social and ecological sciences to address complex environmental problems (Liu et al. 2007; Miller et al. 2008), we propose to bring scholars from EE and other environmental and education fields together in an exploration of opportunities for transdisciplinary research. Through developing these transdisciplinary research questions and theoretical paradigms, this project will also suggest new types of practices beyond those currently used in environmental education, natural resources management, and other environmental fields of endeavor.

Methods: “Arranged Marriages”

This book project consists of chapters created by nine cross-disciplinary co-author pairs. The project leaders and I assigned co-author pairs—in most cases, one author working in environmental education and the other in a related field—to collaborate with each other based on what we perceived as a common interest (see Table 1, below). For example, Richard Stedman, an environmental sociologist known for his work in sense of place, was paired with Nicole Ardoin, an environmental education researcher who also has published on sense of place. Martha Monroe is an environmental education researcher working in a forest resources department; she was paired with Shorna Broussard Allred, who studies forest landowner issues and has ← xxi | xxii → worked in environmental and science education. Timon McPhearson and Keith Tidball, in contrast, both have experience in environmental education, but neither would claim environmental education as their primary discipline. Additionally, many of the participants had training and had worked in multiple fields. For these reasons, the pairing of environmental education and related field scholars was not as clear-cut as we had originally envisioned.


XXXIX, 279
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2013 (October)
attitudes quality knowledge
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 279 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Marianne E. Krasny (Volume editor) Justin Dillon (Volume editor)

Marianne E. Krasny (M.S. and PhD in forest ecology from the University of Washington) is Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Director of the Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University. Her publications include a number of authored, co-authored, or edited books for science and environmental educators. Justin Dillon (PhD in education from King’s College London) is Professor of Science and Environmental Education and Head of the Science and Technology Education Group at King’s College London. He is co-editor of the International Journal of Science Education and is editor or co-editor of a variety of books for science and environmental educators.


Title: Trading Zones in Environmental Education
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320 pages