How might researchers effectively collaborate across regions, disciplines, and languages? What does transregional collaboration look like in the midst of crisis? This essay series highlights the work of the SSRC’s 2020 Indian Ocean Transregional Planning Grant recipients, who reflect on what Anna Tsing has described as the “necessary messes” of scholarly collaborations unfolding during intersecting disasters. The groups draw on their experiences planning collaborative research in order to provide a snapshot of what research has looked like on the ground, and to explore what methods and strategies have worked well—or not so well—during the pandemic.

Located in countries across the Indian Ocean region—from Tanzania to Thailand—as well as North America and Europe, the grantees were selected to plan research projects that addressed two major, long term catastrophes: the profound sociocultural, political, and economic repercussions of environmental change in the region, and ongoing inequalities in the access to and production of knowledge between social researchers in both North-South and South-South partnerships. The sudden onset and immediate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic added another layer to these imbricated crises. In light of these developments, they explore the questions: What does equitable transregional research look like when different regions are affected by and responding to a disaster in distinct ways? And what new possibilities, strategies, and insights might have emerged during this time of crisis?

In answering these questions, many of the authors focus on process. Through their essays, we learn about the how’s of building networks of researchers focused on and based in specific subregions like the Red Sea and the Northern Indian Ocean, and of strategies to maintain these connections without the possibility of gathering in person. We also navigate, through the authors’ reflections, the contingency plans and modifications to research activities necessitated by shifting public health mandates and political situations. In this regard, these essays provide grounded case studies that address questions posed and suggestions offered in an earlier Items series exploring changing social science research practices in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. They demonstrate the kinds of reconsiderations required when working with vulnerable populations in this time of increased uncertainty, and showcase opportunities to experiment with new methodologies in the online world, for instance.

Overall, the series is a testament to what the grantees were able to achieve during their planning year in the face of cumulative challenges, from piloting participant-driven research methods in the Sundarbans to creating oceanic lexicons online. They also alert us to principles that underscore equitable, sustainable research practices and partnerships, among these being mutual support, the importance of time, and the necessity of rest.

This series has been curated by Saarah Jappie, program officer for the Transregional Collaboratory on the Indian Ocean and the Arts Research with Communities of Color program; Alexa Dietrich, program director of Transregional Collaboratory on the Indian Ocean, the Religion and Public Sphere program, and the Arts Research with Communities of Color program; and Sidney Lok, program assistant of Transregional Collaboratory on the Indian Ocean, the Arts Research with Communities of Color program, and the Religion and Public Sphere program.