The Centre for Sustainability Transitions (CST) had the privilege of hosting Dr Guido Caniglia, Scientific Director at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research (KLI) based in Klosterneuburg, Austria. The visit by Dr Caniglia aimed to solidify and strengthen future collaboration between the KLI and CST. In this Q&A, Dr Caniglia highlighted some of the burning sustainability challenges faced by the global society, the importance of collaboration, the importance of knowledge co-production, and visiting South Africa.

As the Scientific Director at KLI, what, in your opinion, are the most burning sustainability challenges the global community is facing?
I speak from the position of privilege as a researcher directing an institute – the KLI, “a home to theory that matters” – dedicated to theoretical and reflexive. From this position, I think that, as a global research community, we should be able to step back for a second and ask: What kind of research are we doing? What kind of research may be best suited to understand and address this messy and complex world? But also, what kind of research institutions and organisations do we need to create to support it? How should we think about ourselves as researchers and our responsibilities in relation to the messy and chaotic world we live in? How can we establish trustful relationships with other societal actors and sectors to create change together? And, last but not least, how do we learn to transgress the academic and societal norms that hinder our understanding and capacity to take action together across difference?

You are visiting Stellenbosch University and spending some time at the Centre for Sustainability Transitions. What is the nature of your visit to the CST?
CST represents for me an exemplary community of researchers that has been able to shape conversations, collaborations, and research trajectories that have inspired intersecting research on sustainability and complexity all over the world. I have been following activities, projects, and people from far away over the years. I am looking forward to initiating new connections with the many researchers at the Centre, share some of my ideas, and learning more about those of others. I am sure this will be a transformative experience for me and my future research trajectories.

Collaboration and partnerships between global research centres have become very important. Are you hoping to strengthen and solidify ties with the CST? If so, what are you hoping to achieve?
The KLI is an institute devoted to interdisciplinary research across different fields (from sustainability to cognition and evolution) with a special focus on theoretical and philosophical work. The institute is an enabling space where early career researchers may dare to develop ideas and collaborations that will make a difference in science and in society. The resonance between KLI and CST is very strong, I believe. Initiating new conversations and collaborations between the two communities is the main goal of my stay, and imagining and planning on what could become enabling situations between the two institutes that allow for new collaborations to emerge and thrive would be a great achievement.

You presented at a CST colloquium while you are in South Africa. Could you provide us with some insight into your presentation?
I focused on collaborative research in so-called knowledge co-production, that is, research designed and implemented together with other actors such as representatives from local communities or policymakers. Being able to engage in this kind of research is extremely difficult and demanding for researchers. In these processes, we are constantly asking ourselves, “What should I do now?” For example: “How can I intervene in this conflict in a productive way? How can I deal with my position of privilege, etc?” These are ethical, epistemological, and political questions, and this is why they are hard to deal with. I presented some work I have done with many wonderful colleagues to figure out the kind of capacities that we should foster as researchers to be able to ask and provide answers to these questions. We use a very old idea from Aristotle (and others from multiple traditions) to make sense of these capacities: the idea of practical wisdom, which in ancient Greece was deemed as the main virtue of political and social life.

On a more personal note, what were you hoping to see, explore and enjoy while in South Africa?
My first clear memories of world politics in the early 1990s are about the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Ever since, I have been following the political and social history of the country through the media and through the voices of South African friends and colleagues. Over time, South Africa has been for me a source of inspiration and a reality check at the same time. I am now here looking forward to learning first-hand about that history, the present struggles, and the future hopes of the nation. I feel like a sponge ready to absorb and learn all that I can. I love urban walking and I am planning to explore the arts and activist scene through several tours, such as in Woodstock and Soweto. But I am also open to any suggestions from locals of where to direct my gaze.