Panel discussion: The payoffs and pitfalls of collaborative research with physical scientists

Political ecologists and other social theorists of the environment must engage seriously with the physical scientific dimensions of their research. Without intending to reify the divide between the physical and social sciences, nor taking either one as a homogeneous category, nor overlooking those political ecologists who are themselves trained in physical science, this panel seeks presenters to share their experiences conducting research alongside physical scientists, and any conceptual and practical lessons learned.


There is widespread agreement that collaboration across not only disciplines, but the “cultures” of social and physical/natural sciences is important and useful; working together can help scholars clarify their ideas, go in new directions, gain insights, strengthen policy implications or other avenues of influence, and more. But the number of collaborations remains low, likely due to the perceived challenges and professional penalties.


Although the environmental sciences were central to the origins of the field, most political ecological scholarship today is more political than ecological. Still, much research is productively engaged with natural and physical sciences. Political ecologists trained mostly in social science may therefore need to work closely with physical/natural scientists within or outside of their departments or fields (including but not limited to agronomists, archeologists, biologists, chemists, climatologists, ecologists, engineers, entomologists, epidemiologists, horticulturalists, hydrologists, geneticists, geologists, meteorologists, modelers, nutritionists, planners, and psychologists). Setting aside debates over whether political ecology is sufficiently ecological (and related calls for more or deeper collaboration), panelists are invited to share their experiences and discuss one or more of the following, or related, topics:


  • collaborations at their best (opportunities, insights, impacts)

  • collaborations at their worst (barriers, limitations, drawbacks, dead ends)

  • integrating different epistemologies and ontologies (e.g., differences in what kinds of questions are asked, the form that data and evidence take, how that data and evidence is analyzed, etc.)

  • investments and returns in different phases of research (e.g., design, grant-writing, data collection, and publishing)

  • the role of critique in collaboration

  • experiences in large research teams

  • how interpersonal factors (e.g., trust and friendship) shape collaborations

  • how intersectional differences shape collaborations (e.g., race, gender, professional status, language, nationality/citizenship, etc.)


We will divide the allotted time for each of the panelists to give brief prepared remarks, followed by a wider conversation among panelists and audience members.


Please send a short description of your interest to Eleanor Andrews ( by December 3. I also welcome suggestions for additional points of departure. Participation will be confirmed by December 6; participants will need to register for the conference by December 15.




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