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?
A: Generate knowledge for action together, or, better, generate knowledge and action together.
Q: This is what action research does, so why is transdisciplinary research needed? Or, rather, given the emphasis on action, why is transdisciplinary research and engagement needed?
A: Thanks for that tweaking of the name. Transdisciplinary research and engagement obviously engages participants to integrate research disciplines. But that just brings us back to your original question. How is this for an answer: What is distinctive about transdisciplinary research and engagement is that it engages other communities with a stake in the issue, which entails integrating their knowledge and knowledge-making systems.
Q: This is what participatory action research (PAR) does, so why is transdisciplinary research and engagement needed?
A: In addition to crossing disciplines and engaging diverse participants, transdisciplinary research and engagement supports the capacity building required for both, moreover, for ensuring it is sustainable—at personal as well as institutional levels.
Q: That sounds relevant to PAR as well.
A: I see that. There is something not characteristic of PAR, however: In addition to crossing disciplines, engaging diverse participants, and sustainable capacity building, the real world challenges that transdisciplinary research and engagement addresses are challenges that cut across levels from the personal and local to national and transnational political economies.
Q: What does such transversality entail?
A: Addressing a local-translocal tension as well as ongoing changes in context and constituencies.
Q: Say more.
A: First the tension: Transdisciplinary research and engagement takes seriously the creativity and capacity-building that arises from well-facilitated participation among people who share a place or livelihood, but it also has to incorporate knowledge-making of non-local or trans-local researchers—including knowledge about the dynamics that produce adverse trans-local decisions about resources that are being drawn on and may be withdrawn from the specific situation in which the research is positioned. And knowledge about ways to try to mitigate their effects.
Now the issue of ongoing changes: This 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).
Q: Would you then say that a key capacity to be built and sustained in transdisciplinary research and engagement is to address ongoing changes in context and constituencies?
A: Yes. Thanks for helping me articulate this. Let’s try to synthesize our question & response into a declarative statement sometime.
Q: Sure.

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