Unequal distribution of time in transdisciplinary research

by Helena Kraff and Eva Maria Jernsand

Transdisciplinary research is described as a participatory and interactive way of producing knowledge, where issues of societal nature are approached from multiple angles through the collaboration between different academic disciplines, industry and society. The principle is that research should not merely inform society; rather members of the society are seen as knowledgeable participants in the research process (e.g. Gibbons 1994; Nowotny 2004; Robinson 2008; Pohl et al. 2010). However, although with good intentions, the essence of transdisciplinarity risks to be undermined if the aspect of time is not acknowledged as an issue of power. For example, problems are often ‘identified’ and project frameworks decided upon long before local stakeholders are involved. Moreover, participants from academia get remunerated for their time whilst for example citizens may not. Time can thereby turn projects that are meant to deal with social inclusion, to reinforcing social exclusion.

This paper critically reflects on a transdisciplinary project in Kisumu, Kenya, where the authors are actively involved. The project is set up between researchers from Kenya and Sweden, coming from different disciplines and universities, and involves local organisations and residents from a small fishing village just outside Kisumu city. The reflection is built around a number of questions that explore challenges that have arisen during the process, many of which are related to unequal distribution of time. Who has time, or is given time? How does time affect stakeholder relationships? And how is time related to aspects such as gender? Stakeholders are often grouped into broad categories, which ignore their diversities and different prerequisites. This makes the distribution of time unequal in projects and calls for changes in attitudes and structures.


Helena Kraff, PhD candidate in Design, School of Design and Crafts, Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing arts, University of Gothenburg. Helena’s main research interest is participatory design, and exploring critical aspects and challenges of participation. For the last three years, Helena has been working in a transdisciplinary project in Kisumu, Kenya, where researchers from different fields, public and private organisation as well as residents have taken part.

Eva Maria Jernsand, PhD candidate in marketing at the Centre for Tourism, School of Business, Economics and Law, Department of Business Administration, University of Gothenburg. Eva Maria’s research interests include place and destination development, participation and social sustainability. She is involved in the same transdisciplinary project in Kisumu as Helena Kraff.