Transdisciplinarity, transversality, and tensions

Transdisciplinary research integrates methods and concepts of different disciplines in systematic processes that improve on any combination of knowledge produced by specialists in disciplines. It does so to address real world challenges, generating knowledge and action together. (As such, it might be better named transdisciplinary research and engagement.) For action-making to be combined with knowledge-making, other communities with a stake in the issue have to be engaged, which entails integrating their knowledge and knowledge-making systems. Crossing disciplines and engaging with diverse participants in knowledge-making is demanding, so transdisciplinary research and engagement has to support the capacity building required for both, moreover, for ensuring they are sustainable—at personal as well as institutional levels. While akin to participatory action research, what takes it beyond is that the real world challenges addressed are transversal—they cut across levels—they link dynamics—from the personal and local to national and transnational political economies.

Three implications of transdisciplinarity together with transversality:
1. A tension. When research and engagement takes seriously the creativity and capacity-building that arises from well-facilitated participation among people who share a place or livelihood, it also needs to incorporate knowledge-making of non-local or trans-local researchers—including knowledge about the transversal dynamics that produce trans-local decisions about resources—resources being drawn on, or susceptible to being withdrawn from, the specific situation in which the research and engagement is positioned.

2. The ongoing changes in context and constituencies. This issue is explored in the 1985 novel Loyalties by the English/Welsh cultural analyst, Raymond Williams. In one passage, a central character, Norman, argues that political involvement cannot be a simple matter of staying loyal to one’s roots. Given the “powerful forces” that shape social and environmental change, we can “in intelligence” grapple with them “by such means as we can find” and take a deliberate path of action, but “none of us, at any time, can know enough, can understand enough, to avoid getting much of it wrong” (357-8). Or, in the words of a close intellectual and political colleague of Norman, if we “go on saying the things we learned to say… it will be just strange talk, in a strange land” (161).

3. Education and training for transdisciplinary research and engagement has to work on multiple levels. No one teacher can guide students on all the levels, just as no student can expect to address real world challenges without collaboration with many others. Teachers and students can expect to need to continue learning over the course of their careers.

My own framing and exploration of all this is posted here and here. In short, for me, transdisciplinarity and transversality follow from social and ecological complexities being what I call “unruly.” If these complexities are to be addressed, not suppressed, then knowledge, plans and action have to continually be reassessed in response to developments. My teaching as I direct the Master’s programs in Critical and Creative Thinking and in Science in a Changing World—programs that are mid-career personal and professional development—does not cover all aspects of addressing unruly complexities. It centers on fostering “curiosity” and “cultivating collaborators.” The Programs leads students to design an Action Research process, but they are not required to carry it out. Nor are they taught to examine the dynamics of transversal political economic processes. These limitations match #3: no one program can guide students on all the levels. However, something the programs are effective in is important for transdisciplinary research and engagement, namely, a sense that it is impossible to simply continue along previous lines. While it is possible to do so, it is no longer ever simple.


Why is transdisciplinarity needed?

Transdisciplinary research integrates methods and concepts of different disciplines in systematic processes.
Q: Why is transdisciplinarity needed?
A: To address real world challenges.
Q: Why is transdisciplinary research needed to do that? What does it do that research in disciplines doesn’t do well? Read more of this post

On transdisciplinarity

Because transdisciplinarity is radical, in the sense that it goes to the roots of knowledge, and questions our ways of thinking and our construction and organization of knowledge, it requires a discipline of self-inquiry that integrates the knower in the process of knowing.

Nicolescu, B. (ed.) (2008) Transdisciplinarity: Theory and Practice. Hampton Press.

Two extensions:
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Guidelines to journal reviewers

[Journal X] is different from other journals in that our editorial team puts in a significant amount of effort to improve submitted papers. Our aim as an editorial team is to provide authors with clear guidance to help them revise and improve their submissions. Towards that aim, our editors synthesize and reconcile any substantive differences in the reviews, sometimes adding our own suggestions. Submissions may go through several rounds of revision before acceptance.

In the spirit of assisting authors to develop their thinking and make their written exposition of that thinking work better on readers, we ask you as a reviewer to follow these guidelines: Read more of this post

A new national vote that respects the original Brexit referendum

Given the national vote in favour of Brexit, the UK government has negotiated with the European Union to arrive at the following plan: (fill in details).
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Online Synchronous Teaching

When students participate over the internet in regularly scheduled class meetings, discussion and small group interactions needs to be structured so that they feel as included and engaged as they would if they were students in a classroom. In other words, teachers should follow the Slow Ed Tech guideline of “modeling computer use on best practices to ensure learning without computers.” Appropriate practices include:
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Life has more possibilities and joys when…

Thinking about the question posted to commentators on this recent PBS show: How to make sense of Elizabeth Warren getting tangled by how she addresses her Native American heritage, while Trump’s innumerable prevarications are not a problem for him and his supporters. My first response was that there are many social dynamics going on–If there was one, someone would have named it succinctly and it would have gained wide circulation. After starting to list various dynamics, from the evangelical push for a Christian nation to profit-making by Fox-stream media, I shifted to see that Trumpism might be resisted by acting upon a unifying dynamic: Read more of this post

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