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Written By

Bethany Keats


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

10 February 2018

Global problems don’t have simple solutions

Much like other areas of our cultural and social lives, academia has been heavily influenced by globalisation. Sociologist Nick Osbaldiston explains why it’s important to maintain an international flow of knowledge.

The development and advancement of information communication technologies has meant that we are now far more connected to our fellow researchers overseas.

It has also resulted in increasing avenues for communication in our research whether that be through peer reviewed academic journals, or amongst traditional and new media sources. Twitter in particular has become a popular platform for academics all over the world – for both the serious and not-so-serious.

However, our technological advances have created issues for us as a society that require systematic global thinking.

What are described as ‘wicked problems’, such as dealing with climate change impacts like rising sea levels, cannot be solved through discipline specific investigations nor simple localised studies.

Rather, what is now required is broad inter-disciplinary research that recognises that within these challenges there are multiple areas of impact – economies, societies, cultures, non-humans, ecology and so on – that need to be touched upon when trying to solve our global problems.

We also need to recognise that in many instances, there is a significant amount of uncertainty about what may well happen. In an area like climate change for instance, scientific models attempt to give us some indication about what they predict will occur (for instance how much land the sea will reclaim in the future).

Person looking at a city

These models are always predicated on a number of contingencies – such as the movement as a globe to a lower or even zero carbon emission future. As such, science communicates to us, the public, what will potentially happen if we are able to come together and work through this global threat.

This is where academics need to work with not just other disciplines, but also fellow colleagues around the world, to build momentum and pressure on policy makers to shift their mentalities towards making good choices now, as a measure of precaution for what might happen if we do not.

A big component of this of course is science, but the nature of wicked problems and the capacity for political institutions especially to deal with them, means that we desperately need collaboration over continents.

Our actions shape the future

We need to collaborate in areas such as intergenerational justice or ethics for dealing with the future now – an understanding that whatever we do in this present day has an impact not just on other people across our world, but on future generations who are yet to be born.

Unless we can actively communicate and develop ideas with our colleagues overseas, these massive challenges for our future will be left under-researched and potentially not dealt with appropriately.

We need open channels across disciplines and continents to make the best of our present day choices, for those future generations who will have to deal with the results of them.

Are you keen to have an impact on the future? Find out more about JCU Society and Culture.

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Featured researcher

Dr Nick Osbaldiston

Senior Lecturer

Dr Nick Osbaldiston is a sociologist and senior lecturer at JCU. His research encompasses many areas within sociological and social theory, but three main themes have been the focus of his research: lifestyle migration, critical engagements with higher education, and cultural sociological understandings of place and self.

Nick has published widely in the area of lifestyle migration and is presently investigating the purposes behind migration and the related environmental risks. He has co-led projects and co-published papers examining work/life balance in Australian academics. In 2012, Nick published his first monograph Seeking Authenticity in Place, Culture and Self with Palgrave Macmillan. His second monograph entitled Towards a Sociology of the Coast also explored the relationship between self and place.