First Coevolvers theory workshop

Jun 06

COEVOLVERS is a group of researchers, Living Lab practitioners and concerned people who are devoted to continuous learning and critical reflection. We conceive of Living Labs as ‘communities of inquiry’. In this process, the close exchange between practice and theory is essential. On June 6, 2023, COEVOLVERS held the first workshop on theory. In their literature survey on NBS definitions, Sowińska-Świerkosz and García do not mention co-creation and co-evolution at all, key concepts in our COEVOLVERS approach (Sowińska-Świerkosz and García, 2022) . This reveals the need for theory development. Our workshop organized a critical reading of three papers in small groups and the plenary (for the papers, see references). We moved from foundational aspects to methodological reflections.

Blog post by Carsten Herrmann-Pillath

For COEVOLVERS pragmatism is one of the philosophical resources that contributes several key notions, such as the synthesis of nature and culture, the concept of habits, or the role of communities of inquiry, all seminally developed by John Dewey (Hiedanpää and Bromley, 2016) . The conventional approach to NBS implicitly sticks to the Cartesian duality of subject and object, confronting humans with the other as ‘nature’, resulting in anthropocentric interpretations of ecosystem services. However, this diagnosis shows no easy way out of the dilemmas. On the one hand, pragmatism overcomes the separation between nature and the human inner self, as the latter is biologically co-constituted by the environment, resulting in the formation of habits as embodying the environment. On the other hand, humans cannot overcome the fundamental barriers to adopting other-centered standpoints, as our epistemic endeavors remain necessarily wed to human categories and epistemic capabilities: There is no easy escape from anthropocentrism. These challenges were discussed controversially. Such philosophical perspectives have direct practical implications: For example, how can we give voice to or represent non-human stakeholders of NBS in our living labs? Are the sheep in our Barcelona lab mere tools in the NBS of fire preventions by grazing shrubs, or can they play an autonomous agential role in relating to human stakeholders? This is not just an academic question, as some human neighbors have strained relationships with the sheep, even lacking understanding for their intended tasks. Hence, the pragmatist view focuses on the formation of new habits that do not only undergird the operations of the NBS, but also manifest acculturating functions of the NBS, in the sense of co-creating forms of conviviality in the locality where the NBS is realized.

There are complex issues in making sense of non-human agency that require mobilizing other theoretical resources (Maller, 2021) . Posthumanism gathers a wide range of theories such as actor- network theory, queer theory or assemblage theory, offering a toolbox which requires great skills in using it with the aim of creating NBS practices. Adopting a more-than-human perspective on NBS is more mainstream than it seems, since there is widespread agreement that NBS must meet objectives of protecting and even nurturing biodiversity, which requires paying attention to the needs and interests of non-human stakeholders. However, practical ways are not obviously at hand. Often indigenous knowledge and practices are invoked, which may be generalized to deeply contextualized local knowledge. Perhaps reference should be made less to specific contents, but to styles and ways of thinking, such as mythical narratives. COEVOLVERS recently turned to the systematic study of art-based approaches.

One methodological choice is ecosemiotics grounded in von Uexküll’s notion of Umwelt (Maran, 2020). This combines ethology and semiotics in what may be understood as ethnographic approach to nature. The researcher would access the non-human worlds of meanings, the Umwelten, via the observation, documentation and interpretation of events happening during a period of observation and constructs a generalizing framework of categorizations. The latter relates to needs and functionings of living beings, such as resting or foraging. This ‘ecological repertoire’ approach was seen as promising, though challenging, facing the requirements of time and expertise in the living labs. Yet, in implementing NBS it is necessary to take into consideration the whole range of embedding and affected ecosystems in order to create designs that foster biodiversity.

Methodological solutions are, for example, doing case studies that focus on key aspects and species, or employing triangulation approaches, combining with other methods, also including the engagement of local knowledge, such as in citizen science activities. The theory workshop was inspiring and productive, and COEVOLVERS is going to institutionalize a biweekly ‘readers’ teatime’ where we will explore ideas and concepts that are cutting-edge in contemporary debates across the disciplines.

Hiedanpää, J., Bromley, D.W., 2016. Environmental heresies: the quest for reasonable. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Maller, C., 2021. Re-orienting nature-based solutions with more-than-human thinking. Cities 113, 103155.

Maran, T., 2020. Ecological Repertoire Analysis: a Method of Interaction-Based Semiotic Study for Multispecies Environments. Biosemiotics 13, 63–75. 09378-9

Sowińska-Świerkosz, B., García, J., 2022. What are Nature-based solutions (NBS)? Setting core ideas for concept clarification. Nature-Based Solutions