Neither right nor wrong? Ethics of collaboration in transformative research for sustainable futures

Julia M. Wittmayer*, Ying Syuan Huang, Kristina Bogner, Evan Boyle, Katharina Hölscher, Timo von Wirth, Tessa Boumans, Jilde Garst, Yogi Hale Hendlin, Mariangela Lavanga, Derk Loorbach, Neha Mungekar, Mapula Tshangela, Pieter Vandekerckhove, Ana Vasques

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Transformative research is a broad and loosely connected family of research disciplines and approaches, with the explicit normative ambition to fundamentally question the status quo, change the dominant structures, and support just sustainability transitions by working collaboratively with society. When engaging in such science-practice collaborations for transformative change in society, researchers experience ethical dilemmas. Amongst others, they must decide, what is worthwhile to be researched, whose reality is privileged, and whose knowledge is included. Yet, current institutionalised ethical standards, which largely follow the tradition of medical ethics, are insufficient to guide transformative researchers in navigating such dilemmas. In addressing this vacuum, the research community has started to develop peer guidance on what constitutes morally good behaviour. These formal and informal guidelines offer a repertoire to explain and justify positions and decisions. However, they are only helpful when they have become a part of researchers’ practical knowledge ‘in situ’. By focusing on situated research practices, the article addresses the need to develop an attitude of leaning into the uncertainty around what morally good behaviour constitutes. It also highlights the significance of combining this attitude with a critical reflexive practice both individually and collaboratively for answering questions around ‘how to’ as well as ‘what is the right thing to do’. Using a collaborative autoethnographic approach, the authors of this paper share their own ethical dilemmas in doing transformative research, discuss those, and relate them to a practical heuristic encompassing axiological, ontological, and epistemological considerations. The aim is to support building practical wisdom for the broader research community about how to navigate ethical questions arising in transformative research practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number677
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2024.

Research programs



Dive into the research topics of 'Neither right nor wrong? Ethics of collaboration in transformative research for sustainable futures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this