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08 December 2014

Debating a methodological way forward: Workshop on mainstreaming gender and socio-cultural inclusion in global change research

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Heated debate and furrowed brows marked the intensive workshop hosted at the HSRC from 29-31 October 2014 where a group of diverse scholars met to not only learn from one another but to further map the way forward on how gender and matters of socio-cultural inclusion could be better incorporated into global change research.

What emerged was an extension of the already dynamic and flexible framework developed in August 2014, as can be seen in the Preliminary Report. Participants included students and professors who came together to engage in multi-disciplinary debate and forge groups that could work with one another to further develop this methodological endeavour. 

Changes in environmental circumstances affect women and men differently, as well as people from varying socio-cultural groupings, because of how the practice and are expected to fulfil certain roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, these different groups affect the environment differently too!

South Africa has a robust policy landscape and its Global Change Agenda is not different. However, it could be criticised for failing to take due consideration of the ways on which environmental challenges are social, and indeed gendered too.
Therefore, in order to understand the complexity of relation between ‘the social world’ and ‘the environmental one’ (which are inextricably linked) there is a need for more nuanced methodological considerations for how research is done and knowledge is generated.
To heed this call a group of researchers within the Africa Institute of South Africa (A department of the HSRC) in collaboration with Green Shift Africa and sponsored by the National Research Fund attempted to develop a framework that could better mainstream gender and socio-cultural inclusion in global change research.

One of the most robust dimensions of the framework, as it currently stands is the centrality of Afrocentricity where it has been methodologically labelled as an example of Afrocentric knowledge production which seeks to understand environmental and social contexts within Africa and as well as locate African agency in responses to them.
The base of the framework consisted of the three core tenets of the research endeavour and attempts to illustrate how they shape and intimately connected with one another. The framework is informed by a conceptual toolbox which highlights some of the most vital components global change research should consider if it wants to mainstream gender and socio-cultural matters.

Although the Preliminary Report maps out what some of these concepts could mean it does not commit to any singular definition of them as it recognises the raging debates on what they may be (such as what is meant by ‘gender, ‘power’, and ‘agency’). Nonetheless, whether a researcher opts to define gender as a construction, a structure, and/or a practice it is important that any research hoping to diversify global change research is cognisant of what we consider to be the most vital components of any project attempting to do so.
During the workshop there was some debate on the concepts found within the toolbox and whether there was an absence of other important considerations, such as ‘International Political Economy’ and ‘Language’ These debates will be further highlighted in the next project’s report, the Comprehensive Report, and even more so in our collection of papers on the matter expected during the course of 2015.
This workshop, and others like it, represent a movement away from disciplinary boxes to one’s that are trying to cross-pollinate knowledge and identify ways in which methodological crevasses can be chartered.

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