13. Mai | 2024 - 16. Mai | 2024

Transdisciplinarity and Social Scientific Spatial Research

Click to download the programme as a pdf.


Leibniz-Gemeinschaft, Chausseestraße 111, 10115 Berlin
Social Impact Lab Beelitz-Heilstätten, Straße nach Fichtenwalde 15 a, 14547 Beelitz
Gewerbehof Luckenwalde, Beelitzer Straße 24, 14943 Luckenwalde

We will plan train journeys to Beelitz-Heilstätten and Luckenwalde and buy tickets for all participants. We will travel back to Berlin every day.


Lars Martel Antoine Coenen | Western Norway University of Applied Sciences
Geographies of Sustainability Transitions – Past, Present and Future

This talk will outline and reflect on the evolution of geography of sustainability transitions research as a transdisciplinary endeavour. It departs from the premise that a place-based perspective is critical to understand the complex, often messy and multifaceted nature of contemporary sustainability transitions and central to the development of effective and legitimate policies, strategies and actions to further such transitions.

Pioneering theorizing and associated empirical research on sustainability transitions has drawn heavily on systemic approaches through seminal frameworks such as the Multi-Level Perspective, Strategic Niche Management and Technological Innovation Systems, emphasizing (technological) innovation, industrial dynamics and processes of creative destruction. Through disciplinary crossovers, this research blends historical macro-perspectives with actor-based microeconomic and institutional foundations, embedding innovation and transition into a wider field of social, institutional and economic change. In parallel, parts of sustainability transitions research have explicitly adopted an action-research, transdisciplinary perspective through the Transition Management approach.

Human geography and spatial research have been relatively recent yet critical additions in the disciplinary mix that constitutes sustainability transitions research. Despite being a latecomer, its impact has been substantial in lending spatial sensitivity and granularity to the systemic transformations unfolding at (and across) different scales across the world in recent decades. This talk will distil insights from what could be called the spatial turn in sustainability transitions and reflect on the contribution(s) geographers and spatial scientists can make in an increasingly pluralist, action-oriented and engaged scholarship in an age of accelerated social, technological and environmental change. 

Isabelle Doucet | Chalmers University of Technology
(Hi)stories that Resist: Societal Impact, Ethics, Agency

Drawing from examples in recent architectural history, I will discuss transdisciplinary architectural practices and tools in terms of their ambitions, transformative agency, critical positioning, as well as their limitations. Projects and tools including counter-projects, live projects, (eco) self builds, and interspecies architecture, provide valuable insights not just into the workings of transdisciplinary practices and their aspired societal impact. Ranging from theoretical manifestoes resisting construction to self-building experiments through trial and error, such projects tell us something about the different formats transdisciplinary practices can take, and the significance of those formats in terms of lasting impact and—intentional or unwanted—appropriations over long periods of time. Transdisciplinary perspectives also tell us something about the challenges for researchers studying such practices in terms of consultation of source material, giving voice to participants (e.g., through interviews), ethical hesitations, the positionality of the researcher, and situated writing. By bringing attention to transdisciplinary (hi)stories of architecture this talk will bring focus to the resistant capacities and challenges of transdisciplinarity.


(in alphabetical order)

Markus Egermann | Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development

Wolfgang Haupt | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space

Silvia Hennig | neuland21

Oliver Ibert | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space

Anna Momburg | neuland21

Madlen Pilz | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space

Ralph Richter | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space

Suntje Schmidt | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space

Transdisciplinarity and Social Scientific Spatial Research – IRS Spring Academy Part 7

During the past decades, the idea of transdisciplinarity has gained increasing momentum. Transdisciplinary research is regarded as a collaborative form of knowledge generation and knowledge application for solving societal challenges that integrates perspectives and actors from academia, civil society, government and administration as well as from the economic realms.

Transdisciplinarity comes with high promises. First, promoters express the believe that through the integration of multiple perspectives and practices on the same object of inquiry and by taking on board divergent normative approaches, a more holistic understanding of reality can be achieved. Second, the collaboration of societal actors and researchers is argued to advance problem-oriented and societally relevant research contributing to problem solution. By including the most advanced expert knowledge, affected parties and actors with expert knowledge to implement solutions, transformative qualities are ascribed to transdisciplinary research too.

Despite these promises – or rather because of these promises – transdisciplinary research is accompanied by severe challenges: it is time-consuming as it is an open-ended learning process, it may fail regularly, it is connected to high uncertainties with regards to its impacts and outcomes, and is driven by incentives contradictory to classical academic careers. Spatial sciences seem to exhibit a strong affinity to transdisciplinarity, because investigating spatial structures and processes requires an integration of several disciplinary perspectives by definition. Each city, region, urban district or village can be seen as an outcome of a process in which social, economic, cultural, physical, ecological, political and regulatory forces interact in complex, often historically unique ways. At the same time, spatial development can be a heavily conflictual process as it touches manifold interests and affects a wide spectrum of social groups in different ways. Therefore, the social scientific research of spatial development cannot be conducted in disciplinary silos and transdisciplinary approaches may provide an opportunity for integrating multiple actors and perspectives in shaping and advancing spatial development.

However, disciplinary inclusiveness and a relative openness to participatory research alone might not be sufficient to be well prepared to take advantage of transdisciplinary research and to deal with all the related challenges. Though transdisciplinary requires a firm rooting within the tradition of a scientific discipline, spatial sciences lack strong disciplinary traditions. Instead, spatial scientists are only loosely connected to each other by a shared interest in spatial categories, but in terms of disciplinary foundations, feel stronger connections to different adjacent fields. From the practitioners’ point of view, transdisciplinarity might not offer a clear alternative to the classical division of work as long as clearly identifiable outcomes and benefits for their interests are not linked to such uncertain and time-consuming endeavours.

Against these ambiguous backdrops, the seventh edition of the IRS Spring Academy seeks to address the following topics:

  • state-of-the-art transdisciplinary research practices and methods in spatial sciences
  • benefits and pitfalls of transdisciplinary research
  • the specificities of transdisciplinary research with a spatial focus
  • organisational forms of realising trans-disciplinary research
  • practical examples of transdisciplinary initiatives
  • transdisciplinary research and academic careers

Goals and Formats

The overarching goals of the IRS Spring Academy are to enable junior researchers from social sciences and humanities with an interest in spatial processes and transformation to identify relevant research gaps, to encourage them to use a spatial perspective in their analyses and to learn from leading experts in the field about theoretical approaches and innovative methods for empirical work. Participants will have the opportunity to present their projects in paper pitch formats and to access leading experts for one-on-one consultations. We therefore cordially invite doctoral and early postdoctoral researchers to join us for an interesting programme to discuss their own research with internationally leading scholars and their peers. The IRS Spring Academy combines well-tried and proven formats such as lectures and seminars with less common formats such as doing-research workshops, paper pitches, or academic speed networking. It offers various possibilities to exchange ideas, to discuss current concepts and methodological approaches, as well as to getting feedback on one’s own research projects from leading scholars in the field.

The programme of the IRS Spring Academy combines different elements and thereby offers plenty of opportunities to debate issues and methodological challenges as well as to engage in critical, yet constructive and supportive dialogue.

Academic Speed Networking | In a series of quick one-on-one meetings, the participants introduce themselves and ask each other questions about their background, research, and expectations of the IRS Spring Academy. This supports getting to know each other quickly and sets starting points for further exchange.

Paper Pitches | Each participant has five minutes to present his/her essential research questions, the argument and how it is relevant to the topics of the IRS Spring Academy. The pitches are followed by a discussion moderated by a senior researcher.

Doing-Research Workshop | In these workshops, facilitators give frank accounts of finalised or recent empirical research projects and provide practical and methodological insights regarding research designs and the implementation of studies with a spatial perspective. They demonstrate how to collect and handle data, how to focus on the object of analysis, and how to deal with unexpected outcomes. Participants are encouraged to share challenges in their own research, to reflect upon practical and/or ethical problems while collecting or interpreting data, and to give feedback on each other’s research strategies.

Co-Teaching Seminar | This seminar offers the opportunity for in-depth discussions with the lecturers. Different approaches regarding methods and theories as well as experiences from doing research will be highlighted and discussed.

Public Keynote Lectures | Renowned international researchers present their current research in a 45-minute lecture which is followed by a comment and a discussion.

Meet the Editors and Reviewers | Editors and members of editorial boards of journals in the field of spatial sciences discuss criteria for selecting and revising manuscripts. Senior researchers, having acted as reviewers, also share their insights. To this end, participants are given the opportunity to get insights into working processes of reviewing and editing. In the course of this session, they will be able to discuss and reflect upon their own as well as their fellow participants’ publication strategies.

Individual Consultations | In these one-on-one sessions, the participants get the opportunity to discuss issues of their research with and receive advice from one of the keynote speakers or lecturers in a protected space.


In order to foster in-depth discussions and reflections as well as extensive opportunities for establishing and consolidating networks among each other and with leading international scholars, a maximum of 25 participants will be admitted to the IRS Spring Academy.

Tuition fees will not be charged. Meals, snacks and drinks during the event are included, as well as one evening reception and one dinner.

Participants are required to organise accommodation and make travel arrangements themselves and to cover these expenses.

Applicants who a) cannot receive any funding from home institutions and for whom b) travel and accommodation costs would prevent participation, may receive a scholarship.

There is a limited budget reserved for participants in need. In case of strong demand, scholarships will be divided between eligible candidates. Scholarships can only be granted to cover travel and accommodation costs. If you wish to apply for a scholarship, please briefly explain your situation and indicate the amount that would make your participation possible.


This call for applications addresses doctoral candidates and early post-doctoral researchers from social sciences and humanities with an interest in spatial processes and transformation. Participants will be selected according to their academic qualification as well as the suitability of their current research project to the topic of the IRS Spring Academy 2024.

We can only accept applications in electronic form. Please send your application in one pdf file via email to:


This call for applications closes on 20 March 2024.

Selected candidates will be informed at the end of March 2024; enrolment for the IRS Spring Academy will take place until the mid of April 2024.

Applications must include:

  • a motivational letter (1–2 pages),
  • your CV, and
  • a short description of your current research project, e.g. an abstract of your dissertation incl. name and affiliation of your supervisors.


About the IRS Spring Academy series

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