Sara Gottschalk: Designing Strong Sustainable Living Environments – Participation in Collaborative Processes for Sustainable Urban Transitions

Welcome to a K3 seminar with Sara Gottschalk, PhD student in Interaction Design, K3/Linnaeus University.

The title of the talk is: Designing Strong Sustainable Living Environments – Participation in Collaborative Processes for Sustainable Urban Transitions.

This will be Sara’s 50 percent PhD seminar. Cindy Kohtala, Professor in Design for Sustainability, Umeå University, will take on the role as discussant.

The seminar will take place on Thursday, June 23 at 10.15-12.00. It will be a hybrid seminar. Please either come to K3 Studio (NiC 0541) or join online here: (this is the zoom link to all K3 seminars this term).

Please notice the weekday!

Below is some information about the seminar. If you would like to have the manuscript for the seminar, please mail Sara (

Short presentation and focus of the seminar:

My PhD project takes place within on-going societal and urban transitions for sustainability. Through engagement with local projects aiming for sustainable transition, my research is concerned with how discourses of sustainability become manifested through practice, as well as how to intervene in urban planning processes through design, and how to facilitate for strong(er) discourses of sustainability. The research is conducted on the level of the neighbourhood by engaging as an embedded design researcher in collaborative projects located in Malmö.

In this seminar I wish to discuss some specific challenges within my research:

The challenge of transdisciplinarity: Research for strong sustainability advocates holistic and transdisciplinary approaches. However, transdisciplinarity implies both breadth and depth, which becomes challenging, especially in relation to time-constraints: Rapid societal processes do not “wait” for transdisciplinary design research. Another challenging aspect of transdisciplinary research is how to present findings in a non-reductive way. A possibility is to use a ‘thick’ descriptions approach, but a challenge here is to not get lost in too many details. How to find that balance?

The challenge of embedded research: As embedded researcher having the role of being both insider (doing research through collaborative design) and outsider (research about a cases) at the same time, the challenging question is how to respectfully represent my collaborators in my writings and at the same time critically examine and write about the collaboration.

Any constructive input or experience on how to deal with transdisciplinarity in embedded research, or good examples, is more than welcome!

About my research:

My research departures in the dilemma of sustainability as a concept without a clear definition, which makes it open to diverse and contradictory discourses and interpretations. To discuss such differences, I distinguish discourses by categorizing them as weak or strong understandings of sustainability. Weak discourses of sustainability do not challenge the economic growth paradigm nor Western ontologies and epistemologies. Conversely, strong discourses of sustainability challenge these paradigms and call for socio-environmentally just transitions of society and caring culture-nature relationships. Swedish sustainable urban planning is well recognized internationally and often used as an example of best-practice. However, Swedish sustainable urban planning heavily relies on assumptions deeply rooted in the ideals of modernity, industrialisation, and economic growth as the prerequisite for sustainable transition, a discourse often referred to as environmental modernization. Environmental modernization is heavily criticised within strong discourses of sustainability as oppressive and a ‘dead end’ for a sustainable future. This dominating paradigm of sustainability in Swedish urban planning and how to intervene through strong ideas of sustainability in this context, constitutes the main challenge for this research.

Through three projects, I investigate the Swedish discourse of sustainability in urban planning and explore possibilities for strong(er) practices of sustainability, from the perspective of the planners and the residents of specific places, as well as from a design researcher perspective. The research is conducted at two residential sites in Malmö, Sege Park and the tenant-own association Ida. Both sites work as examples of contemporary process of sustainable urban transition. A fourth study is planned for spring 2023.

This research program is part of the research environments of K3 (School of Art, Culture and Communication) at Malmö University, and Design + Change at Linnaeus University (Lnu), supported by The Bridge

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