ICS Seminar Series - Dena Fam and Zoë Sofoulis

Date: Thursday, 30 July 2020
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: The seminar will be hosted online via Zoom. Please RSVP to e.blight@westernsydney.edu.au by 29 July, 5:00pm, to receive the Zoom details.

On the road to Know-Where: situational awareness in transdisciplinary projects

Presenters: Dena Fam and Zoë Sofoulis


This paper has been submitted to a special issue of Humanities and Social Sciences Communications edited by Gabriele Bammer et al. on the theme ‘Expertise in Integration and Implementation for Transformative Research’.

We wanted to contribute ideas from the knowledge ecologies framework (initially developed from an ICS project), but found ourselves somewhat at odds with the collection’s key terms.  We hesitated over how far the disciplinary notion of expertise can be extended in inter- or trans-disciplinary contexts, where practical outcomes may be valued over disciplinary rankings, and some salient skills and dispositions can’t be formally learned. We critiqued the concept of integration for too narrowly defining the relationships possible between different knowledges, especially where positivist knowledge assumes the position of ‘master discourse’, and dictates the methodological and evidence criteria for all. Other kinds of encounters, conversations and relationships are possible.  And we explored some implications of epistemological pluralism for implementation of non-convergent solutions. This is not so much an heroic search for a single ‘silver bullet,’ but co-weaving a ‘golden basket’ with a suite of responses appropriate to different communities of interested knowers and actors.

In reflecting on workshops held in NZ and at UTS, and our analysis of a transdisciplinary sanitation project in Alaska, we identified a strength of the knowledge ecologies framework was its emphasis on context(s) in which projects operate. This not only counters the positivist tendency to decontextualise knowledge as universal, but also builds situational awareness (‘know-where’), to complement other kinds of knowledges (know-that, know-how, interactional expertise). Our paper highlights three key concepts - relationality, incommensurability and contextualisation - implicated in situational awareness, and shares the ‘My Knowledge Niche’ worksheet, a tool to guide project teams on the road to ‘know-where’.

The seminar will feature two break-out group sessions for people to draw on their project experiences, in response to handouts that will be emailed to attendees along with zoom link details.


A/Prof Dena Fam, is a Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, UTS, with research and consulting experience in sociocultural and technical projects on alternative sanitation, wastewater and food waste. She is lead editor and contributor to two recent Routledge collections on transdisciplinary research practice.

Dr Zoë Sofoulis, an adjunct at ICS, is an interdisciplinary researcher known for practical applications of qualitative cultural research and humanities perspectives in fields where technology and engineering predominate, especially water.

(Non-presenting) authors:

Dr Ronlyn Duncan, Senior Researcher in Environmental Social Science,  at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Lincoln, NZ, has interests that include knowledge governance and the co-production of science and policy, collaborative water management, and a social practice approach to understanding water management.

Dr Melissa Robson-Williams is an environmental scientist and transdisciplinary researcher at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Lincoln, NZ  who specialises in managing the impacts of land use on water, science and policy interactions, and the practice of transdisciplinary research.