Addressing complex, political and intransient sustainability challenges of transdisciplinarity: The case of the MEGADAPT project in Mexico City

Luis A. Bojórquez-Tapia, Hallie Eakin, Bertha Hernández-Aguilar, Rebecca Shelton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Transdisciplinarity (TD) is now recognized as one of several core approaches to sustainability science. Efforts over the last decade have led to the conceptualization of transdisciplinary endeavors and the definition of practices that define the fundamental ambition and aspiration of TD. Nevertheless, while the principles defining transdisciplinary research are increasingly clear, the practice and disparate contexts of TD often receive a less critical examination. The ideal of research co-design and knowledge co-production is particularly challenging —although arguably particularly salient— in the highly contested, highly politicized, urgent, yet also uncertain settings of many sustainability problems. In this paper, we use the case of an international, transdisciplinary project to explore some of the challenges in scientist-stakeholder interactions in addressing a truly wicked sustainability problem in Mexico City: chronic flooding and water scarcity. We argue that in cases such as that of water risk in Mexico City, clear and transparent procedural – or algorithmic – approaches can serve as robust mechanisms for integrating disparate knowledge. When linked to “boundary objects” such as the geographic support decision-making system used in our work, procedural approaches enabled our team to illustrate the interdependence of disparate actors' values, decision priorities and actions, and the effect of these interdependencies on the city's vulnerability. We contend that the realities of countries like Mexico compel the implementation of “transgressive TD” to push the frontiers of sustainability rather than reinforce pre-existing (and unsustainable) patterns and paradigms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100604
JournalEnvironmental Development
Volume38
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Boundary objects
  • Complexity
  • Scientist-stakeholder interactions
  • Transgression
  • Urban vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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