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Epistemology and Decolonization

How do we know? Epistemology matters!

Research activities and knowledge are situated. They are shaped by the various cultural contexts people are socialized in and in which their working tools are designed. How can we make best use of the existing diversity of knowledges? How can we profit from a diversity of worldviews when exerting science in an international PhD program?


A wealth of insights
Farmer and researcher looking at a Hoodia plant in Southern Namibia, 2005.

IPPAE is an interdisciplinary PhD program, welcoming scholars from South America, Africa and Asia. Many scholars bring along work experience in the field, where they encountered farmers and sometimes interacted with the local economies as stakeholders themselves. This is a source of wealth for our program from at least two perspectives:

  • First, the hands-on experiences the IPPAE PhD candidates bring from their former occupations are a source of tacit knowledge - the kind of knowledge, which all of us develop while deepening interactions with our environments. Tacit knowledge is different from scientific knowledge, in which it pertains to a given location and results from observation in non-standardized settings, nested in the ecological, weather and socio-economic constraints that characterize a socio-ecological system/a location.
  • Second, IPPAEs come from various parts of the world and thus various cultures (in the generic sense of the term) and especially ontologies. The worldview shared by the people of a given socio-ecological system (or location) shows how they perceive that things work and what matters in their system. This worldview is, of course, shaped by the very characteristics of the location mentioned above.

Thus, IPPAE PhD candidates are susceptible of bringing along a wealth of different insights,  which in principle can considerably increase the relevance of their research – that is, if they manage to wisely combine their insights with the worldviews imposed by theories often formulated for other systems and by people sharing a different worldview.


The challenge


Finding ways to joggle between worldviews and use them to the best outcome in a research project is far from trivial. Indeed, our claim is that often the richness of knowledge brought in by PhD candidates may be lost through the focus on existing theories, or the top-down relations between professors socially situated in the science sphere of the global West and the visiting PhD candidates. Our working group intends to contribute to increasing the quality and the insights created by the research done in IPPAE through several indirect means.

  • First, our activities intend to raise awareness of the situatedness of knowledge from an institutional (science) and country cultural perspective, among both PhD candidates and the staff involved in the PhD program.
  • Second, we want to explore the situatedness of knowledge from a more political perspective, through the lens of the Global North/Global South dichotomy and the concept of decolonization, by exploring the discussion around the decolonization of research methods, of teaching and of economics in particular.
  • A third normative aim of this working group is to build upon these insights to make suggestions for minor (or more consequent) institutional changes fostering a more conscious use of theories and knowledge creation in the IPPAE.




  • Taking stock of the current debate on decolonisation in the context of research on socio-ecological systems management:
    • Situatedness of knowledge 
    • Decolonizing economics
    • Decolonizing the human nature relationship
  • Research into the role of empirical methods to decolonise international research
  • Research into the practice of higher education: Formulating suggestions for institutional structures fostering equity of knowledge.
  • Lay foundations for the development of a workshop/module on epistemology and knowledge equity.
  • Networking with partners, joint events, participation in virtual communication platforms


Working group


Leader: Dr. Stephanie Domptail

Jessica Mörsdorf

Prof. Dr. Martin Petrick

Interest in joining in? Contact Dr. Stephanie Domptail ()


Recent activities


Participation in the German Sustainability Science Summit, July 2021

Leaders of the session “Critical reflection on power relations and the transformative role of participation in sustainability science and governance” at the German Sustainability Science Summit: Contribution on: “Power in transdisciplinary research processes: insights from the decolonization literature”.

Conference website:

Conference Summary Report:

Press communication:

Summary Report of the GSSS by the German committee for sustainability (DKN)

In preparation: A first review on situatedness in (participatory) science.