Dr Jessica Cockburn

Jess Profile Pic

Contact details:
Email: j.cockburn@ru.ac.za 
Qualifications: BSc – Botany & Entomology (Rhodes University), BSc Honours – Entomology (Rhodes University), MSc Zoology – Plant Protection (North-West University), PhD – Environmental Science (Rhodes University).

Short Biography

Growing up on a farm in rural KwaZulu-Natal with a farmer as a father and a teacher as a mother had a significant influence on Jessica’s career trajectory. Her parents are passionate about nature and people, and Jessica spent much of her childhood in the outdoors and meeting diverse and interesting people through the various community activities her parents are involved in.

Jessica is now a postdoctoral scholar at the ELRC, conducting inter- and transdisciplinary research at the social-ecological interface. She considers herself a ‘pracademic in training’, working towards generating practical and transformative sustainability research on landscapes, learning and linkages.

After completing most of her undergraduate studies in the natural sciences, Jessica’s MSc research allowed her to begin integrating ecological and social sciences, as she was working to understand the influence of farmers’ knowledge and perceptions on their willingness and ability to adopt sustainable pest management practices in sugarcane. Through this engaged, interdisciplinary study Jessica began to appreciate the importance of broader socio-cultural and institutional processes on farmers’ motivation to implement sustainable farming practices and become good stewards of natural resources. Jessica then worked for two years as an environmental practitioner, seeking to integrate academic knowledge into on-the-ground stewardship initiatives. These experiences informed Jessica’s decision to do a transdisciplinary PhD in Environmental Sciences from 2015 to 2017. The title of her PhD research was “Stewardship and collaboration in multifunctional landscapes: a transdisciplinary enquiry”. Her doctoral dissertation can be downloaded from the Rhodes University Library at this link.

Postdoctoral Research

In her postdoctoral research, Jessica is working with Professor Eureta Rosenberg to develop a relational and learning-based approach to collaborative stewardship in multifunctional landscapes. This entails conceptual and methodological development, drawing on a critical realist philosophy and transformative learning theories. The aim is to put these ideas into practice through two key research and practice areas:

  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning for landscape and catchment management: drawing on realist evaluation, participatory methodologies, and transformative learning theory to support the development of reflective capacities among researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders working together in rural landscapes for sustainability.
  • Green skills and capacity development for collaboration and stakeholder engagement: developing a relational approach to multistakeholder collaboration for landscape stewardship, both conceptually and practically. This will entail development of training materials, tools and courses to develop practitioners’ ‘relational competencies’ to support more effective stakeholder engagement and social learning processes.

This work will be built on strong partnership with practitioners working in the fields of environmental stewardship, conservation, and natural resource management across South Africa, including an on-going partnership with Living Lands.  

Jessica also collaborates with researchers internationally through the PECS Working Group on Collaborative Management and Governance to conduct comparative case study research on collaborative stewardship initiatives in diverse social-ecological contexts.

For further information, up-to-date publication lists and research activities you can access the following links about Jessica:

Personal website

Google Scholar profile

Twitter profile 


Cockburn, J., Cundill, G., Shackleton, C., & Rouget, M. 2018. Towards place-based research to support social-ecological stewardship. Sustainability 10(5): 1434. Available online here.

Cockburn, J., and G. Cundill, 2018. Ethics in Transdisciplinary Research: Reflections on the Implications of ‘Science with Society’, In: Macleod, C., Marx, J., Mnyaka, P., Treharne, G. (Eds.), Handbook of Ethics in Critical Research: Stories from the Field. Palgrave Macmillan, London, United Kingdom, pp. 81-97. Available online here.

Cockburn, J., Koopman, V., Pereira, L & Van Niekerk, J. 2018. Institutional bricolage to address sustainability challenges in the South African sugarcane industry: a case study of the SUSFARMS® initiative in the Midlands area of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In: Pereira, L.M., McElroy, C., Girard, A., & Littaye, A. Food, Energy, and Water Sustainability: Governance Strategies for Public and Private Sectors, Earthscan: Routledge, London, pp. 133-151.

Taylor, C., Cockburn, J., Rouget, M., Ray-Mukherjee, J., Mukherjee, S., Slotow, R., Roberts, D., Boon, R., O’Donoghue, S., Douwes, E. 2016. Evaluating the outcomes and processes of a research-action partnership: The need for continuous reflective evaluation. Bothalia 46: 46(2): a2154. Available online here.

Boon, R., Cockburn, J., Douwes, E., Govender, N., Ground, L., Mclean, C., Roberts, D., Rouget, M. & Slotow, R., 2016, ‘Managing a threatened savanna ecosystem (KwaZulu-Natal Sandstone Sourveld) in an urban biodiversity hotspot: Durban, South Africa’. Bothalia 46(2): a2112. Available online here.

Cockburn, J., M. Rouget, R. Slotow, D. Roberts, R. Boon, E. Douwes, S. O’Donoghue, C. T. Downs, S. Mukherjee, W. Musakwa, O. Mutanga, T. Mwabvu, J. Odindi, A. Odindo, ?. Proche?, S. Ramdhani, J. Ray-Mukherjee, Sershen, M. C. Schoeman, A. J. Smit, E. Wale, and S. Willows-Munro. 2016. How to build science-action partnerships for local land-use planning and management: lessons from Durban, South Africa. Ecology and Society 21(1): 28. Available online here.

Cockburn J.J., Coetzee, H.C., Van den Berg, J. & Conlong, D.E. 2014. Large-scale sugarcane farmers’ knowledge and perceptions of Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), push-pull and integrated pest management. Crop Protection 56: 1-9. Available online here.

Cockburn, J.J, Khumalo-Seegelken, B., and Villet, M.H. 2014 IziNambuzane: IsiZulu names for insects. South African Journal of Science 110: #2013-0292. Available online here.

Cockburn J., Coetzee, H., Van den Berg, J., Conlong, D.E. & Witthöft, J. 2014. Exploring the role of sugarcane in small-scale farmers’ livelihoods in the Noodsberg area, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. South African Journal of Agricultural Extension 42: 80–97. Available online here.



Last Modified: Mon, 15 Oct 2018 08:17:41 SAST