Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: qualitative social science

Response article in Methods in Ecology and Evolution

Proud to be one of a strong list of applied social science experts co-authoring a paper out this week, Expanding the role of social science in conservation through an engagement with philosophy, methodology, and methods (open access). Led by the clear-headed Katie Moon, of UNSW Canberra, this new article responds to a special feature in Methods in Ecology and Evolution on qualitative methods for decision-making. Given the mix of methods they included (e.g. including Q-method and MCDA), it seems they used qualitative as if synonymous with social, which is one of my pet peeves. But there were more substantial issues with the special issue. I have written before that I weary of reviewing papers led by teams of natural scientists who wade into social science work without involving any experienced social scientists, so was really happy to weigh in with this great team.

Full disclosure: I joined the team late, and my rationale is not theirs; I speak only for myself. But it was a real joy to develop fellowship and debate ideas with this group, despite our far-flung geography. I’m sorry only that a poorly considered analogy fuelled an angry place online, already in oversupply, distracting from the value of this contribution and the good faith of its lead authors. Good response articles are not the result of indoctrinated voices speaking in unison, but rather a novel network of scholars working together to iron out some of the wrinkles that have been causing collective discomfort. And there is just nothing like slipping into freshly laundered sheets.

New paper – precondition for integration

Australian grazier Gary Johnson, appraising tree decline on his farm, 2010.

Australian grazier Gary Johnson, appraising tree decline on his farm, 2010.

A year ago this week I was in Portugal, where I presented and co-convened a session at the World Congress of Silvo-pastoral Systems. The invite came as a result of my work on tree decline under grazing in Australia, though I used the opportunity to present synthesis work emerging from more recent work on Holistic Management.  The best keynote at the event was by Ika Darnhofer, an Austrian scholar, with whom I struck up a correspondence after the event. When news came that a special issue of Rangeland Ecology and Management was planned for the Integrative stream of the conference, Ika and I collaborated on a short commentary piece.  It was published online today, the first of those in the special issue. Each of us had been frustrated by the primacy of natural science within key journals and projects, so our commentary argues for greater openness to stand-alone social science research (particularly qualitative social science) in problem-based agricultural journals. Instead, editors have one-by-one closed their doors to social science unless in integration with natural sciences. I like to think of it as picking up where Nathan Sayre left off in 2004.

In the summary I prepared for Rangelands, the more producer-focused magazine also run by the Society for Range Management, the paper is summarized as follows:

The voices of pastoralists, farmers, and ranchers are hard to hear in rangeland and silvopastoral research, although they make the management choices. Researchers call for integration across academic disciplines to improve decision-making, but what seems to be forgotten is that robust disciplines are needed first. Is social science around rangelands and silvopastoral systems healthy, or is it being given a service role to natural science? Key journals are biased toward natural science, fragmenting social science insight and discouraging new scholars. Journals welcoming standalone social science will grow the discipline and incorporate land manager knowledge, strengthening research outcomes and their application.

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