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Despite contemporary accounts of sustainability that underline its complex, multidimensional and contested character, in practice, much of the science that engages with sustainability issues remains fixed to traditional, disciplinary perspectives and actions (Miller et al. 2014). Disciplinary knowledge, it must be said, has obvious value and has delivered huge advances in understanding since antiquity. Nevertheless, the appreciation and application of sustainability issues through traditional disciplinary channels has been characterised by the historic failure to facilitate the deeper societal change needed for issues such as the one we contend with here—-the sustainable transformation of the food system paradigm (Fischer et al. 2007).
The articulation of sustainability problems through traditional disciplinary channels often leads to 'atomised' conceptualisations that view biophysical, social and economic dimensions of sustainability as compartmentalised entities and assume these can be tackled in isolation (e.g. Loos et al. 2014). Instead of viewing sustainability issues as a convergence of interacting components that must be addressed together, disciplinary perspectives often promote 'techno-fixes' to address what are often complex multidimensional problems (e.g. Campeanu and Fazey 2014). A common feature of such framings is that they often imply that sustainability problems can be resolved without consideration of the structures, goals and values that underpin complex problems at deeper levels, typically giving little consideration to the ambiguities of human action, institutional dynamics and more nuanced conceptions of power.
The practice of breaking a problem down into discrete components, analysing these in isolation and then reconstructing a system from interpretations of the parts has been a hugely powerful methodological insight that traces its history back to the dawn of modernity with the arrival of Cartesian reductionism (Merchant 1981). Being a key tenet of the production of objective knowledge, this practice forms the bedrock of most disciplinary effort in the natural sciences. The importance of objective knowledge, of course, is in that it provides the research community with 'facts'; precise and reproducible insights about generally dispersed phenomena. The production of facts was the engine room of innovation that propelled the Green Revolution. Science fuelled 'expert knowledge' and provided penetrating information about dynamics in our food production systems that remained invariant through change in time, space or social location. Building a catalogue of this kind of knowledge, and deploying it as what Latour (1986) calls 'immutable mobiles', formed the basis of the universal systems of monocropping, fertilisation and pest control that characterise the modern food system (Latour 1986).
But this form of knowledge production has weaknesses. As any scientist knows, in order to gain significant insights, this method must be strictly applied. It has been shown that this knowledge production is 'biased toward those elements of nature which yield to its method and toward the selection of problems most tractable to solutions with the knowledge thereby produced' (Kloppenburg 1991). A clear example of this would be our imbalanced food security research agenda that heavily privileges production over conservation, sustainability or food sovereignty issues (Hunter et al. 2017). Most high-profile work on food security concentrates on production (Foley et al. 2011), emphasising material flows and budgets over deeper issues such as the structures, rules and values that shape food systems. The simple fact is that because we know more about material interventions it is easier to design, model and experiment on these aspects of the food system. As Abson et al. (2017: 2) point out: 'Much scientific lead sustainability applications assume some of the most challenging drivers of unsustainability can be viewed as "fixed system properties" that can be addressed in isolation'. In pursuing the paths along which experimental success is most often realised, 'atomised' disciplinary approaches neglect those areas where other approaches might prove rewarding. Such epistemological 'blind spots' mean that sustainability interventions are often geared towards highly tangible aspects that may be simple to envisage and implement, yet have weak potential for 'leveraging' sustainable transition or deeper system change (Abson et al. 2017). Getting to grips with the limits and partialities of our disciplinary knowledge is one aspect that we stress when we claim the need to develop a 'critical sustainability knowledge' for aquaponics.
Viewed from disciplinary perspectives the sustainability credentials of aquaponic systems can be more or less simple to define (for instance, water consumption, efficiency of nutrient recycling, comparative yields, consumption of non-renewable inputs, etc.). Indeed, the more narrowly we define the sustainability criteria, the more straightforward it is to test such parameters, and the easier it is to stamp the claim of sustainability on our systems. The problem is that we can engineer our way to a form of sustainability that only few might regard as sustainable. To paraphrase Kläy et al. (2015), when we transform our original concern of how to realise a sustainable food system into a 'matter of facts' (Latour 2004) and limit our research effort to the analysis of these facts, we subtly but profoundly change the problem and direction of research. Such an issue was identified by Churchman (1979:4—5) who found that because science addresses mainly the identification and the solution of problems, and not the systemic and related ethical aspects, there is always the risk that the solutions offered up may even increase the unsustainability of development—-what he called the 'environmental fallacy' (Churchman 1979).
We might raise related concerns for our own field. Early research in aquaponics attempted to answer questions concerning the environmental potential of the technology, for instance, regarding water discharge, resource inputs and nutrient recycling, with research designed around small-scale aquaponic systems. Although admittedly narrow in its focus, this research generally held sustainability concerns in focus. Recently, however, we have detected a change in research focus. This is raised in Chap. 1 of this book, whose authors share our own view, observing that research 'in recent years has increasingly shifted towards economic feasibility in order to make aquaponics more productive for large-scale farming applications'. Discussions, we have found, are increasingly concerned with avenues of efficiency and profitability that often fix the potential of aquaponics against its perceived competition with other large-scale production methods (hydroponics and RAS). The argument appears to be that only when issues of system productivity are solved, through efficiency measures and technical solutions such as optimising growth conditions of plants and fish, aquaponics becomes economically competitive with other industrial food production technologies and is legitimated as a food production method.
We would certainly agree that economic viability is an important constituent of the long-term resilience and sustainability potential of aquaponics. However, we would caution against too narrowly defining our research ethic—-and indeed, the future vision of aquaponics—-based on principles of production and profit alone. We worry that when aquaponic research is limited to efficiency, productivity and market competitiveness, the old logics of the Green Revolution are repeated and our claims to food security and sustainability become shallow. As we saw earlier, productionism has been understood as a process in which a logic of production overdetermines other activities of value within agricultural systems (Lilley and Papadopoulos 2014). Since sustainability inherently involves a complex diversity of values, these narrow avenues of research, we fear, risk the articulation of aquaponics within a curtailed vision of sustainability. Asking the question 'under what circumstances can aquaponics outcompete traditional large-scale food production methods?' is not the same as asking 'to what extent can aquaponics meet the sustainability and food security demands of the Anthropocene?'.
Knowledge production through traditional disciplinary pathways involves a loss of context that can narrow our response to complex sustainability issues. The multidimensional nature of food security implies that 'a single globally valid pathway to sustainable intensification does not exist' (Struik and Kuyper 2014). The physical, ecological and human demands placed on our food systems are contextbound and, as such, so are the sustainability and food security pressures which flow from these needs. Intensification requires contextualisation (Tittonell and Giller 2013). Sustainability and food security are outcomes of 'situated' practices, and cannot be extracted from the idiosyncrasies of context and 'place' that are increasingly seen as important factors in the outcomes of such (Altieri 1998; Hinrichs 2003; Reynolds et al. 2014). Added to this, the Anthropocene throws up an added task: localised forms of knowledge must be coupled with 'global' knowledge to produce sustainable solutions. The Anthropocene problematic places a strong need upon us to recognise the interconnectedness of the world food system and our globalised place within it: The particular way sustainable intensification is achieved in one part of the planet is likely to have ramifications elsewhere (Garnett et al. 2013). Developing a 'critical sustainability knowledge' means opening up to the diverse potentials and restraints that flow from contextualised sustainability concerns.
One of the main ruptures proposed by ecological intensification is the movement away from the chemical regulation that marked the driving force of agricultural development during the industrial revolution and towards biological regulation. Such a move reinforces the importance of local contexts and specificities. Although dealing most often with traditional, small-holder farming practices, agroecological methods have shown how context can be attended to, understood, protected and celebrated in its own right (Gliessman 2014). Studies of 'real' ecosystems in all their contextual complexity may lead to a 'feeling for the ecosystem'—-critical to the pursuit of understanding and managing food production processes (Carpenter 1996).
The relevance of agroecological ideas need not be restricted to 'the farm'; the nature of closed-loop aquaponics systems demands a 'balancing' of co-dependent ecological agents (fish, plants, microbiome) within the limits and affordances of each particular system. Although the microbiome of aquaponics systems has only just begun to be analysed (Schmautz et al. 2017), complexity and dynamism is expected to exceed Recirculating Aquaculture Systems, whose microbiology is known to be affected by feed type and feeding regime, management routines, fish-associated microflora, make-up water parameters and selection pressure in the biofilters (Blancheton et al. 2013). What might be regarded as 'simple' in comparison to other farming methods, the ecosystem of aquaponics systems is nevertheless dynamic and requires care. Developing an 'ecology of place', where context is intentionality and carefully engaged with, can serve as a creative force in research, including scientific understanding (Thrift 1999; Beatley and Manning 1997).
The biophysical and ecological dynamics of aquaponic systems are central to the whole conception of aquaponics, but sustainability and food security potentials do not derive solely from these parameters. As König et al. (2016) point out, for aquaponic systems: 'different settings potentially affects the delivery of all aspects of sustainability: economic, environmental and social' (König et al. 2016). The huge configurational potential of aquaponics—-from miniature to hectares, extensive to intensive, basic to high-tech systems—-is quite atypical across food production technologies (Rakocy et al. 2006). The integrative character and physical plasticity of aquaponic systems means that the technology can be deployed in a wide variety of applications. This, we feel, is precisely the strength of aquaponic technology. Given the diverse and heterogeneous nature of sustainability and food security concerns in the Anthropocene, the great adaptability, or even 'hackability' (Delfanti 2013), of aquaponics offers much potential for developing 'custom-fit' food production (Reynolds et al. 2014) that is explicitly tailored to the environmental, cultural and nutritional demands of place. Aquaponic systems promise avenues of food production that might be targeted towards local resource and waste assimilative limits, material and technological availability, market and labour demands. It is for this reason that the pursuit of sustainability outcomes may well involve different technological developmental paths dependent upon locale (Coudel et al. 2013). This is a point that is beginning to receive increasing acknowledgement, with some commentators claiming that the urgency of global sustainability and food security issues in the Anthropocene demand an open and multidimensional approach to technological innovation. For instance, Foley et al. (2011:5) state: 'The search for agricultural solutions should remain technology neutral. There are multiple paths to improving the production, food security and environmental performance of agriculture, and we should not be locked into a single approach a priori, whether it be conventional agriculture, genetic modification or organic farming' (5) (Foley et al. 2011). We would highlight this point for aquaponics, as König et al. (2018: 241) have already done: 'there are several sustainability problems which aquaponics could address, but which may be impossible to deliver in one system setup. Therefore, future pathways will always need to involve a diversity of approaches'.
But the adaptability of aquaponics might be seen as a double-edged sword. Inspiration for specific 'tailor-made' sustainability solutions brings with it the difficulty of generalising aquaponic knowledge for larger-scale and repeatable purposes. Successful aquaponics systems respond to local specificities in climate, market, knowledge, resources, etc. (Villarroel et al. 2016; Love et al. 2015; Laidlaw and Magee 2016), but this means that changes at scale cannot easily proceed from the fractal replication of non-reproducible local success stories. Taking similar issues as these into account, other branches of ecological intensification research have suggested that the expression 'scaling up' must be questioned (Caron et al. 2014). Instead, ecological intensification is beginning to be viewed as a transition of multiscalar processes, all of which follow biological, ecological, managerial and political 'own rules', and generate unique trade-off needs (Gunderson 2001).
Understanding and intervening in complex systems like this presents huge challenges to our research, which is geared towards the production of 'expert knowledge', often crafted in the lab and insulated from wider structures. The complex problem of food security is fraught with uncertainties that cannot be adequately resolved by resorting to the puzzle-solving exercises of Kuhnian 'normal science' (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1995). The necessity to account for 'specificity' and 'generality' in complex sustainably issues produces great methodological, organisational and institutional difficulties. The feeling is that to meet contextualised sustainability and food security goals, 'universal' knowledge must be connected to 'place-based' knowledge (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1995). For Caron et al. (2014), this means that 'scientists learn to continually go back and forth...' between these two dimensions, '...both to formulate their research question and capitalize their results... Confrontation and hybridization between heterogeneous sources of knowledge is thus essential' (Caron et al. 2014). Research must be opened up to wider circles of stakeholders and their knowledge streams.
Given the huge challenge on all accounts that such a scheme entails, a tempting resolution might be found in the development of more advanced 'environmentcontrolled' aquaponic farming techniques. Such systems work by cutting out external influences in production, maximising efficiency by minimising the influence of suboptimal, location-specific variables (Davis 1985). But we question this approach on a number of accounts. Given that the impulse of such systems lies in buffering food production from 'localised inconsistencies', there is always a risk that the localised sustainability and food security needs might also be externalised from system design and management. Cutting out localised anomalies in the search of the 'perfect system' must certainly offer tantalising efficiency potentials on paper, but we fear this type of problem-solving bypasses the specificity-generality problematic of sustainability issues in the Anthropocene without confronting them. Rather than a remedy, the result may well be an extension of the dislocated, 'one size fits all' approach to food production that marked the Green Revolution.
Current aquaponics research that follows either of the informal schools of 'decoupling' or 'closing the cycle' might well be an example of such framings. By pushing the productivity limits of either production side—-aquaculture or hydroculture—-inherent operational compromises of the ecological aquaponic principle become more apparent and become viewed as barriers to productivity that must be overcome. Framing the aquaponic problem like this results in solutions that involve more technology: patented one-way valves, condensation traps, high-tech oxygenators, LED lighting, additional nutrient dispensers, nutrient concentrators and so on. These directions repeat the knowledge dynamic of modern industrial agriculture that overly concentrated the expertise and power of food production systems into the hands of applied scientists engaged in the development of inputs, equipment and remote system management. We are unsure of how such technocratic measures might fit within a research ethic that places sustainability first. This is not an argument against high-tech, closed environment systems; we simply hope to emphasise that within a sustainability first paradigm, our food production technologies must be justified on the grounds of generating context-specific sustainability and food security outcomes.
Understanding that sustainability cannot be removed from the complexities of context or the potentials of place is to acknowledge that 'expert knowledge' alone cannot be held as guarantor of sustainable outcomes. This strikes a challenge to modes of centralised knowledge production based on experiments under controlled conditions and the way science might contribute to the innovation processes (Bäckstrand 2003). Crucial here is the design of methodological systems that ensure both the robustness and genericity of scientific knowledge is maintained along with its relevance to local conditions. Moving to conceptions like this requires a huge shift in our current knowledge production schemes and not only implies better integration of agronomic with human and political sciences but suggests a path of knowledge co-production that goes well beyond 'interdisciplinarity' (Lawrence 2015).
Here it is important to stress Bäckstrand's (2003: 24) point that the incorporation of lay and practical knowledge in scientific processes 'does not rest on the assumption that lay knowledge is necessarily "truer", "better" or "greener"'. Rather, as Leach et al. (2012: 4) point out, it stems from the idea that 'nurturing more diverse approaches and forms of innovation (social as well as technological) allows us to respond to uncertainty and surprise arising from complex, interacting biophysical and socioeconomic shocks and stresses'. Faced with the uncertainty of future environmental outcomes in the Anthropocene, a multiplicity of perspectives can prevent the narrowing of alternatives. In this regard, the potential wealth of experimentation occurring in 'backyard' and community projects across Europe represents an untapped resource which has until now received little attention from research circles. 'The small-scale sector...' Konig et al. (2018: 241) observe, '...shows optimism and a surprising degree of self-organization over the internet. There might be room for creating additional social innovations'. Given the multidimensional nature of issues in the Anthropocene, grassroots innovations, like the backyard aquaponics sector, draw from local knowledge and experience and work towards social and organisational forms of innovation that are, in the eyes of Leach et al. (2012: 4), 'at least as crucial as advanced science and technology'. Linking with community aquaponics groups potentially offers access to vibrant local food groups, local government and local consumers who are often enthusiastic about the prospects of collaborating with researchers. It is worth noting that in an increasingly competitive funding climate, local communities offer a well of resources—- intellectual, physical and monetary—-that often get overlooked but which can supplement more traditional research funding streams (Reynolds et al. 2014).
As we know, currently, large-scale commercial projects face high marketing risks, strict financing deadlines, as well as high technological and management complexity that makes collaboration with outside research organisations difficult. Because of this, we would agree with König et al. (2018) who find advantages for experimentation with smaller systems that have reduced complexity and are tied down by fewer legal regulations. The field must push to integrate these organisations within participatory, citizen-science research frameworks, allowing academic research to more thoroughly mesh with forms of aquaponics working in the world. In the absence of formalised sustainability measures and protocols, aquaponic enterprises risk legitimation issues when their produce is marketed on claims of sustainability. One clear possibility of participatory research collaborations would be the joint production of much needed 'situation-specific sustainability goals' for facilities that could form the 'basis for system design' and bring 'a clear marketing strategy' (König et al. 2018). Working towards outcomes like these might also improve the transparency, legitimacy and relevance of our research endeavours (Bäckstrand 2003).
The European research funding climate has begun to acknowledge the need to shift research orientation by including the requirement in recent project funding calls of implementing the so-called 'living labs' into research projects (Robles et al. 2015). Starting in June 2018, the Horizon 2020 project proGIreg (H2020-SCC2016-2017) is going to include a living lab for the exemplary implementation of the so-called nature-based systems (NBS), one of which will be a community designed, community-built and community-operated aquaponic system in a passive solar greenhouse. The project, with 36 partners in 6 countries, aims to find innovative ways to productively utilise green infrastructure of urban and peri-urban environments, building upon the co-production concepts developed in its currently running sibling project, CoProGrün.
The researchers' working packages regarding the aquaponic part of the project are going to be threefold. One part will be about raising the so-called technology readiness level (TRL) of aquaponics, a research task without explicit collaboration with laypersons and the community. Resource utilisation of current aquaponic concepts and resource optimisation potential of additional technical measures are the core objectives of this task. While at first glance this task seems to follow the above-criticised paradigm of productivity and yield increase, evaluation criteria for different measures will include more multifaceted aspects such as ease of implementation, understandability, appropriateness and transferability. A second focus will be support of the community planning, building and operational processes, which seeks to integrate objective knowledge and practitioner knowledge generation. A meta-objective of this process will be the observation and the moderation of the relevant community collaboration and communication processes. In this approach, moderation is actively expected to alter observation, illustrating a deviation from the traditional research routines of fact building and repeatability. A third package encompasses research on political, administrative, technical and financial obstacles. The intention here is to involve a wider collection of stakeholders, from politicians and decision-makers to planners, operators and neighbours, with research structures developed to bring together each of these specific perspectives. Hopefully, this more holistic method opens a path to the 'sustainability first' approach proposed in this chapter.
Recognising aquaponics as a multifunctional form of food production faces large challenges. As has been discussed, grasping the notion of 'multifunctional agriculture' is more than just a critical debate on what constitutes 'post-productionism' (Wilson 2001); this is because it seeks to move understandings of our food system to positions that better encapsulates the diversity, nonlinearity and spatial heterogeneity that are acknowledged as key ingredients to a sustainable and just food system. It is important to remember that the very notion of 'multifunctionality' in agriculture arose during the 1990s as 'a consequence of the undesired and largely unforeseen environmental and societal consequences and the limited cost-effectiveness of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which mainly sought to boost agrarian outputs and the productivity of agriculture' (270) (Cairol et al. 2009). Understanding that our political climates and institutional structures have been unconducive to sustainable change is a point we must not forget. As others have pointed out in adjacent agronomic fields, understanding and unlocking the richness of food production contributions to human welfare and environmental health will necessarily involve a critical dimension (Jahn 2013). This insight, we feel, must feature more strongly in aquaponics research.
We chose the word 'concern' here carefully. The word concern carries different connotations to 'critique'. Concern carries notions of anxiety, worry and trouble. Anxiety comes when something disrupts what could be a more healthy or happy or secure existence. It reminds us that to do research in the Anthropocene is to acknowledge our drastically unsettling place in the world. That our 'solutions' always carry the possibility of trouble, whether this be ethical, political or environmental. But concern has more than just negative connotations. To concern also means to 'be about', to 'relate to' and also 'to care'. It reminds us to question what our research is about. How our disciplinary concerns relate to other disciplines as well as wider issues. Crucially, sustainability and food security outcomes require us to care about the concerns of others.
Considerations such as these make up a third aspect of what we mean when we call for a 'Critical sustainability knowledge' for aquaponics. As a research community, it is crucial that we develop an understanding of the structural factors which impinge upon and restrict the effective social, political and technological innovation of aquaponics. Technical change relies upon infrastructure, financing capacities, market organisations as well as labour and land rights conditions (Röling 2009). When the role of this wider framing is assumed only as an 'enabling environment', often the result is that such considerations are left outside of the research effort. This is a point which serves to easily justify the failure of technology-based, top-down development drives (Caron 2000). In this regard, the techno-optimistic discourse of contemporary aquaponics, in its failure to apprehend wider structural resistance to the development of sustainable innovation, would serve as a case example.
As an important potential form of sustainable intensification, aquaponics needs to be recognised as being embedded in and linked to different social, economic and organisational forms at various scales potentially from household, value chain, food system and beyond including also other political levels. Thankfully, moves towards attending to the wider structural difficulties that aquaponic technology faces have recently been made, with König et al. (2018) offering a view of aquaponics through an 'emerging technological innovation system' lens. König et al. (2018) have shown how the challenges to aquaponics development derive from: (1) system complexity, (2) the institutional setting and (3) the sustainability paradigm it attempts to impact. The aquaponic research field needs to respond to this diagnosis.
The slow uptake and high chance of failure that aquaponics technology currently exhibits is an expression of the wider societal resistance that makes sustainable innovation such a challenge, as well as our inability to effectively organise against such forces. As König et al. (2018) note, the high-risk environment that currently exists for aquaponic entrepreneurs and investors forces startup facilities across Europe to focus on production, marketing and market formation, over the delivery of sustainability credentials. Along these lines, Alkemade and Suurs (2012) remind us, 'market forces alone cannot be relied upon to realize desired sustainability transitions'; rather, they point out, insight into the dynamics of innovation processes is needed if technological change can be guided along more sustainable trajectories (Alkemade and Suurs 2012).
The difficulties aquaponic businesses face in Europe suggest the field currently lacks the necessary market conditions, with 'consumer acceptance'—-an important factor enabling the success of novel food system technologies—-acknowledged as a possible problem area. From this diagnosis, there has been raised the problem of 'consumer education' (Miličić et al. 2017). Along with this, we would stress that collective education is a key concern for questions of food system sustainability. But accounts like these come with risks. It is easy to fall back on traditional modernist conceptions regarding the role of science in society, assuming that 'if only the public understood the facts' about our technology they would choose aquaponics over other food production methods. Accounts like these assume too much, both about the needs of 'consumers', as well as the value and universal applicability of expert knowledge and technological innovation. There is a need to seek finer-grain and more nuanced accounts of the struggle for sustainable futures that move beyond the dynamic of consumption (Gunderson 2014) and have greater sensitivity to the diverse barriers communities face in accessing food security and implementing sustainable action (Carolan 2016; Wall 2007).
Gaining insight into innovation processes puts great emphasis upon our knowledge-generating institutions. As we have discussed above, sustainability issues demand that science opens up to public and private participatory approaches entailing knowledge co-production. But in terms of this point, it's worth noting that huge challenges lay in store. As Jasanoff (2007: 33) puts it: 'Even when scientists recognize the limits of their own inquiries, as they often do, the policy world, implicitly encouraged by scientists, asks for more research'. The widely held assumption that more objective knowledge is the key to bolstering action towards sustainability runs contrary to the findings of sustainability science. Sustainability outcomes are actually more closely tied deliberative knowledge processes: building greater awareness of the ways in which experts and practitioners frame sustainability issues; the values that are included as well as excluded; as well as effective ways of facilitating communication of diverse knowledge and dealing with conflict if and when it arises (Smith and Stirling 2007; Healey 2006; Miller and Neff 2013; Wiek et al. 2012). As Miller et al. (2014) point out, the continuing dependence upon objective knowledge to adjudicate sustainability issues represents the persistence of the modernist belief in rationality and progress that underwrites almost all knowledge-generating institutions (Horkheimer and Adorno 2002; Marcuse 2013).
It is here where developing a critical sustainability knowledge for aquaponics shifts our attention to our own research environments. Our increasingly 'neoliberalised' research institutions exhibit a worrying trend: the rollback of public funding for universities, the increasing pressure to get short-term results, the separation of research and teaching missions, the dissolution of the scientific author, the contraction of research agendas to focus on the needs of commercial actors, an increasing reliance on market take-up to adjudicate intellectual disputes and the intense fortification of intellectual property in the drive to commercialise knowledge, all of which have been shown to impact on the production and dissemination of our research, and indeed all are factors that impact the nature of our science (Lave et al. 2010). One question that must be confronted is whether our current research environments are fit for the examination of complex sustainability and long-term food security targets that must be part of aquaponic research. This is the key point we would like to stress—-if sustainability is an outcome of multidimensional collective deliberation and action, our own research endeavours, thoroughly part of the process, must be viewed as something that can be innovated towards sustainability outcomes also. The above-mentioned Horizon 2020 project proGIreg may be an example of some ambitious first steps towards crafting new research environments, but we must work hard to keep the research process itself from slipping out of view. Questions might be raised about how these potentially revolutionary measures of 'living labs' might be implemented from within traditional funding logics. For instance, calls for participatory approaches foreground the conceptual importance of open-ended outcomes, while at the same time requiring the intended spending of such living labs to be predefined. Finding productive ways out of traditional institutional barriers is an ever-present concern.
Our modern research environments can no longer be regarded as having a privileged isolation from the wider issues of society. More than ever our innovation-driven biosciences are implicated in the agrarian concerns of the Anthropocene (Braun and Whatmore 2010). The field of Science and Technology Studies teaches us that technoscientific innovations come with serious ethicopolitical implication. A 30-year-long discussion in this field has moved well beyond the idea that technologies are simply 'used' or 'misused' by different socio-political interests after the hardware has been 'stabilised' or legitimated through objective experimentation in neutral lab spaces (Latour 1987; Pickering 1992). The 'constructivist' insight in STS analyses goes beyond the identification of politics inside labs (Law and Williams 1982; Latour and Woolgar 1986 ) to show that the technologies we produce are not 'neutral' objects but are in fact infused with 'world-making' capacities and political consequence.
The aquaponics systems we help to innovate are filled with future making capacity, but the consequences of technological innovation are seldom a focus of study. To paraphrase Winner (1993), what the introduction of new artefacts means for people's sense of self, for the texture of human/nonhuman communities, for qualities of everyday living within the dynamic of sustainability and for the broader distribution of power in society, these have not traditionally been matters of explicit concern. When classic studies (Winner 1986) ask the question 'Do artefacts have politics?', this is not only a call to produce more accurate examinations of technology by including politics in accounts of the networks of users and stakeholders, though this is certainly needed; it also concerns us researchers, our modes of thought and ethos that affect the politics (or not) we attribute to our objects (de la Bellacasa 2011; Arboleda 2016). Feminist scholars have highlighted how power relations are inscribed into the very fabric of modern scientific knowledge and its technologies. Against alienated and Abstract forms of knowledge, they have innovated key theoretical and methodological approaches that seek to bring together objective and subjective views of the world and to theorise about technology from the starting point of practice (Haraway 1997; Harding 2004). Aware of these points, Jasanoff (2007) calls for the development of what she calls 'technologies of humility': 'Humility instructs us to think harder about how to reframe problems so that their ethical dimensions are brought to light, which new facts to seek and when to resist asking science for clarification. Humility directs us to alleviate known causes of people's vulnerability to harm, to pay attention to the distribution of risks and benefits, and to reflect on the social factors that promote or discourage learning'.
An important first step for our field to take towards understanding better the political potentials of our technology would be to encourage the expansion of the field out into critical research areas that are currently underrepresented. Across the Atlantic in the US and Canada similar moves like this have already been made, where an interdisciplinary approach has progressively developed into the critical field of political ecology (Allen 1993). Such projects not only aim to combine agriculture and land use patterns with technology and ecology, but furthermore, also emphasise the integration of socioeconomic and political factors (Caron et al. 2014). The aquaponics research community in America has begun to acknowledge the expanding resources of food sovereignty research, exploring how urban communities can be re-engaged with the principles of sustainability, whilst taking more control over their food production and distribution (Laidlaw and Magee 2016). Food sovereignty has become a huge topic that precisely seeks to intervene into food systems that are overdetermined by disempowering capitalist relations. From food sovereignty perspectives, the corporate control of the food system and the commodification of food are seen as predominant threats to food security and the natural environment (Nally 2011). We would follow Laidlaw and Magee's (2016) view that community-based aquaponics enterprises 'represent a new model for how to blend local agency with scientific innovation to deliver food sovereignty in cities'.
Developing a 'critical sustainability knowledge' for aquaponics means resisting the view that society and its institutions are simply neutral domains that facilitate the linear progression towards sustainable innovation. Many branches of the social sciences have contributed towards an image of society that is infused with asymmetric power relations, a site of contestation and struggle. One such struggle concerns the very meaning and nature of sustainability. Critical viewpoints from wider fields would underline that aquaponics is a technology ripe with both political potential and limitation. If we are serious about the sustainability and food security credentials of aquaponics, it becomes crucial that we examine more thoroughly how our expectations of this technology relate to on-the-ground experience, and in turn, find ways of integrating this back into research processes. We follow Leach et al. (2012) here who insist on the need for finer-grained considerations regarding the performance of sustainable innovations. Apart from the claims, just who or what stands to benefit from such interventions must take up a central place in the aquaponic innovation process. Lastly, as the authors of Chap. 1 have made clear, the search for a lasting paradigm shift will require the ability to place our research into policy circuits that make legislative environments more conducive to aquaponics development and enable larger-scale change. Influencing policy requires an understanding of the power dynamics and political systems that both enable and undermine the shift to sustainable solutions.