CauSES Kick-off meeting

By Volker Grimm, Leipzig.

Volker Grimm from the Department Ecological Modelling, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ).

When Maja Schlüter invited me to participate in the CauSES grant application „Causation in Sustainability Science“, my first thought, being a natural scientist and an ecological modeller, was: What the heck? But it soon became clear that this could be one of those projects where you learn to question important concepts that you had previously taken for granted or not considered at all.

That’s why I was very excited when the grant application was accepted and I was looking forward to the kick-off meeting in Stockholm, March 20 to 22, 2019. I wanted to meet new people from different backgrounds, get to know new perspectives, but I was also nervous: Will it work? With a team of philosophers of science, analytical sociologists, ecologists, social-ecological systems researchers and agent-based modellers?

It worked! It all depends on the group dynamics, which proved to be enthusiastic and inspiring at CauSES. All participants enjoyed talking, but were also able to listen. Questions of understanding, which were due to different terminologies and conceptual backgrounds, were asked without hesitation and answered with great patience.

Karl Wennberg, Maja Schlüter, Tilman Hertz, Perti Ylikoski & Emilie Lindkvist discussing in the sun at Högberga Gård.

We informed each other about our different perspectives and notions of causality: analytical sociology and Coleman’s boat, process philosophy and assemblage thinking, dynamic systems theory and causal loop diagrams, institutional economics and the SES framework as well as ecology and pattern-oriented modelling. We defined initial tasks, namely the mapping and bundling of causal concepts, the production of a „founding paper“ aimed at raising awareness of the issues addressed by CauSES, and the selection and further preparation of case studies linking the different perspectives and causal concepts.

I went home excited and inspired after the meeting and look forward to interacting and working with this very diverse but also highly motivated and competent team. With a smile, though, I thought: „At the end of the project, will we be able to apply our better understanding of causal notions to CauSES itself: what were the causes of the effects of CauSES?“. Seriously, I really believe that a better understanding, integration, and use of the different notions of causality is needed and has high potential to boost sustainability science.