Navigating force conflicts: A case study on strategies of transformative research in the current academic system

Barbara Kump*, Julia Wittmayer, Kristina Bogner, Mayte Beekman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Against the backdrop of the increasing calls for scholars, universities and the broader academic system to become more societally relevant and contribute to tackling various sustainability challenges, researchers across all disciplines are themselves moving toward conducting more transformative research. Work to date has focused on challenges in these transitions, obstacles to transformative research, and researchers' resistance to ‘impact strategies’; however, little is known about how those who actually do transformative research ultimately overcome these challenges. Using Lewin's field theory as a theoretical basis, we collected qualitative data and carried out 32 in-depth interviews with ‘transformative’ scholars and policy and support staff at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) on the driving and conflicting forces related to transformative research, as well as strategies for dealing with them. An in-depth grounded analysis revealed transformative researchers' identity and goal conflicts and showed how they skillfully navigate those conflicts by choosing between two ideal-typical strategies, ‘transforming through research output’ and ‘transforming through research process’. The constellations of forces identified that actually influence researchers' choices on those strategies need to be taken into account in the designing of effective research policies for leveraging the potential of transformative research to tackle sustainability challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Article number137374
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023


  • Academic system
  • Engaged scholarship
  • Field theory
  • Research for sustainability
  • Transformative research
  • University transitions


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