Irmelin Gram-Hanssen et al.: Decolonizing transformations through ‘right relations’

Published by Sustainability Science, 2021

Cover of the journal Sustainability Science


Irmelin Gram-Hanssen

Nicole Schafenacker

Julia Bentz 


Climate change has been conceptualized as a form and a product of colonization. In this perspective, it becomes important to base climate change adaptation and transformation efforts on decolonizing practices and imaginaries. A central aspect of decolonization is contained in the Indigenous conceptualization of relationality. Exploring how decolonization and relationality might form the foundation for transformations research, we engage with the concept of ‘right relations’. In the context of this inquiry, we take ‘right relations’ to mean an obligation to live up to the responsibilities involved when taking part in a relationship—be it to other humans, other species, the land or the climate. We begin the paper by bringing together the literature on climate change adaptation, transformation and decolonization to show their interconnections and emphasize the need to engage with all three when talking about sustainability. Second, we invoke the idea of ‘right relations’ to address how non-Indigenous transformation researchers can further the process of decolonization as part of their research. Third, we offer insights from our own research experience with narrative practices to help exemplify how transformation researchers in all disciplines might embody ‘right relations’ centered around four characteristics: listening deeply, self-reflexivity, creating space and being in action. Embodying ‘right relations’ is a continuous process of becoming with no end point, and we do not wish to suggest that we hold the answers. Instead, we reflect on our role in this process and hope for these words to open a dialogue about how we might move towards a ‘decolonized humanity’. We suggest that willingness to be affected and altered by the process of reciprocal collaborations is key to imagining decolonial ways of being and that this in turn can be a powerful manner of generating equitable and sustainable transformations.

Read the article in Sustainability Science.

Published May 10, 2021 12:51 PM - Last modified May 10, 2021 12:51 PM