Five Dimensions of Applied Transdisciplinarity

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Abstract
There's an emerging literature arguing for the importance of a transdisciplinary approach, outlining its philosophical roots, and articulating the need for transdisciplinarity in our present situation. Transdisciplinarity is already branching out in many different forms and on many different levels, from the highly theoretical to the more applied. In the following pages I'd like to explore an over-arching framework for applied transdisciplinarity. In other words, it's one way to get started doing transdisciplinary inquiry, and getting a sense of what it actually might involve.
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Articles from Integral Leadership Review
Transdisciplinary Reflections
2012-08-20 10:08:57 Alfonso Montuori
Five Dimensions of Applied Transdisciplinarity
Alfonso Montuori
Alfonso Montuori
There’s an emerging literature arguing for the importance of a transdisciplinary
approach, outlining its philosophical roots, and articulating the need for
transdisciplinarity in our present situation. Transdisciplinarity is already branching
out in many different forms and on many different levels, from the highly theoretical
to the more applied. In the following pages I’d like to explore an over-arching
framework for applied transdisciplinarity. In other words, it’s one way to get started
doing transdisciplinary inquiry, and getting a sense of what it actually might involve.
I want to propose five dimensions that constitute the basis of transdisciplinarity.
These dimensions are the foundation for transdisciplinary work as I see it. I certainly
don’t want to give the impression that they are the dimensions of transdisciplinarity,
the generally agreed on dimensions, necessary but not sufficient, or anything like
that. Simply that I have found them useful in the practice of transdisciplinarity, in my
own experience researching and teaching. They emerge from my immersion in the
research on inter- and transdisciplinary approaches, drawing from Morin to Klein,
Nicolescu to Newell, Augsburg to Leavy. They are not so much theoretical
dimensions as practical dimensions: they represent aspects and moments of
research. Together they form a heuristic for transdisciplinary work, and are intended
as an opportunity to open up dialogue about the process of inquiry itself.
Five Dimensions for a Heuristic of Transdsciplinarity
The 5 dimensions of transdisciplinarity are grounded in a set of questions I believe
we need to ask ourselves when embarking on any project we believe should be
transdisciplinary. In this issue’s column I provide a brief introduction to these
dimensions, and I’ll provide more extensive examples and theoretical foundations in
coming issues.
1) Inquiry-Based rather than Discipline-Driven: What are the characteristics of the
phenomenon we want to understand? Based on these characteristics, why does
our research need to be transdisciplinary? What are the limitations of existing
disciplinary perspectives? What do disciplinary perspectives leave out that in our
view is important in order to develop rich and complex understanding of the
phenomenon? At this stage we need to be able to give an extensive description of
the issue we want to explore. This should preferably happen through a narrative, a
story, an incident, anything that connects the issue to the “real” world. Then we can
articulate the various aspects of our inquiry, and show why it cannot be contained
within the boundaries of only one discipline. Inquiry based means we look at our
subject matter without the restrictions of a disciplinary lens. We look at a
phenomenon, and describe it. Then we see what the issues are we want to
understand, and draw from appropriate disciplines.
2) Trans-paradigmatic rather than Intra-paradigmatic: Once we step outside the
confines of disciplinary knowledge, what does the available research literature have
to say about our subject? What disciplinary perspectives already exist? What is
Dominant Disciplinary Discourse—in others words, in what discipline might we find
most of the work on our topic, even if there is no research specifically on our topic?
How are various perspectives constructed, using what fundamental assumptions?
Traditionally knowledge is of course organized by disciplines. Within those
disciplines there are different frames, different perspectives on the issues being
studied. Most researchers work within the confines of one particular perspective,
and apply that perspective but do not necessarily question it. A Trans-paradigmatic
perspective involves an awareness of the many different ways a particular question
can be framed, and an understanding of the underlying assumptions of those
perspectives, both within specific disciplines and across them, in the sense that
different disciplines may address a specific topic such as leadership from different
theoretical perspectives. It also means that while we cannot know every individual
piece of research ever done about our topic, we can still have an understanding of
the many ways in which the topic has historically been approached. Key literature
here is found in the philosophy of social science. Brian Fay’s Contemporary
Philosophy of Social Science (Fay, 1996) provides a very useful framing of key
questions. Of particular interest is the fact that Fay’s book is influenced by, and
draws extensively on, Robert Kegan’s work and presents a dialectical, postformal
approach.
3) Complex thinking rather than Reductive-Disjunctive thinking: How are we thinking
about our topic? What is our “unit of analysis” or “system definition?” Are we
separating and abstracting, or distinguishing and connecting? The Trans-
paradigmatic dimension asks us to reflect on the plurality of ways that our topic has
been framed in the context of its larger ecology. This dimension asks us to look at
our own thinking, introducing a metacognitive and systemic/complex approach.
(Particularly as outlined by Morin— 2008a, 2008b—complex thought is closely
related to postformal thought. This will be the topic of a future column.) Our
traditional way of thinking focuses on analysis, simplicity, and abstraction. This way
of thinking mirrors the organization of knowledge into specific disciplines in
universities. The danger is hyper-specialized silo-thinking that can take us ever
deeper inside a single system, and cannot account for interrelations and how the
system we have chosen to study interacts with, affects, and is affected by, its
environment. Systems theory and cybernetics emerged in attempts to create tools
and a language to reconnect and move across the disciplines that had become too
closed and hyper-specialized. Complex thought integrates systems theory,
cybernetics, and complexity theory to offer a way of thinking that accounts for
context, interconnection, interdependence, change, and uncertainty. Attempting to
do work across disciplines, connecting topics, ideas, and phenomena, with a way of
thinking that separates, abstracts (etymologically: removes from context), and
isolates is defeating the purpose.
4) Integration of the Inquirer rather than “Objective” elimination of inquirer: In
traditional social science, the inquirer and his/her experience, subjectivity, values,
etc., are to be completely removed form the inquiry in an attempt to duplicate the
method of the natural sciences. In transdisciplinary research, the inquirer attempts
to make her- or himself transparent through the process of inquiry, which involves a
constant awareness of the inquirer’s participation, both in the potential for self-
deception and for creativity. Why are we doing this research? What does it says
about us, our motivations, and our life as a whole that we are choosing to research
X rather than Y? What are our guiding assumptions, our beliefs, motivations, and
implicit theories? Who are we influenced by? What has shaped our understanding
of the world? Who are we, and how do we engage with and approach knowledge
and knowing? What skills and theoretical frames do we bring to this inquiry, and
where might we need to broaden our skill- and theory-base? Transdisciplinarity
views inquiry as an opportunity for self-inquiry, and stresses the necessity for self-
inquiry as a way of keeping our instrument tuned, as it were.
5) Creative Inquiry rather than Reproductive Inquiry: Transdisciplinarity frames entire
inquiry as Creative Inquiry, and therefore as a creative process. How do we create
our understanding of any phenomenon? How do we engage with the research
literature, and also with our social and cultural context? Creative inquiry is a process
of knowledge creation (Montuori, 2011a). Reproductive inquiry (Montuori, 2011b)
does not account for creativity. The frame of Creative Inquiry stressed the
constructive character of every inquiry.
Transdisciplinarity is not, in this view, either a research method or simply a way of
doing research that utilizes a number of different disciplines. It is an altogether
different way of thinking about knowledge, knowledge production, and inquiry. The
emergence of transdisciplinarity itself offers a wonderful opportunity for inquiry into
our own fundamental assumptions about knowledge, knowledge production, and
inquiry.
References
Fay, B. (1996). Contemporary philosophy of social science. New York: Blackwell
Publishers.
Montuori, A. (2011a). Creative inquiry. In N. M. Seel (Ed.), The encyclopedia of the
science of learning. Heidelberg: Springer.
Montuori, A. (2011b). Reproductive learning. In N. M. Seel (Ed.), The encyclopedia of
the science of learning. Heidelberg: Springer.
Morin, E. (2008a). On complexity. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Morin, E. (2008b). The reform of thought, transdisciplinarity, and the reform of the
university. In B. Nicolescu (Ed.), Transdisciplinarity. Theory and practice (pp. 23-
32). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
About the Author
Alfonso Montuori, PhD, is Professor at California Institute of Integral Studies,
where he designed and teaches in the Transformative Leadership M.A. and the
Transformative Studies Ph.D. He was Distinguished Professor in the School of Fine
Arts at Miami University, in Oxford Ohio and in 1985-1986 he taught at the Central
South University in Hunan, China. An active musician and producer, in a former life
Alfonso worked in London England as a professional musician. He is the author of
several books and numerous articles on creativity and innovation, the future,
complexity theory, and leadership. Alfonso is also a consultant in the areas of
creativity, innovation and leadership development whose clients have included
NetApp, Training Vision (Singapore), Omintel-Olivetti (Italy) and Procter and Gamble.
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  • ... By focusing on his own personal biography, Montuori explored Downloaded by [Tanya Augsburg] at 18:29 19 August 2014 possibilities for the individual transdisciplinary researcher through a reliance on autoethnography (connecting personal experiences with wider contexts) and personal narrative as the basis for advancing his framework. Montuori's (2012b) framework for transdisciplinarity comprises five aspects: (a) inquiry-based rather than discipline-driven; (b) trans-paradigmatic rather than intra-paradigmatic; (c) complex thinking rather than reductive-disjunctive thinking; (d) integration of the inquirer rather than "objective" elimination of inquirer; and (e) creative inquiry rather than reproductive inquiry. "Central to Transdisciplinarity," Montuori wrote, "is the integration of the inquirer in the process of inquiry, and that for many of us our passion for transdisciplinarity emerges out of a felt need to go beyond some of the limitations of more traditional disciplinary academic approaches, and certain established ways of thinking" (2012a, n. p.). ...
    ... "Central to Transdisciplinarity," Montuori wrote, "is the integration of the inquirer in the process of inquiry, and that for many of us our passion for transdisciplinarity emerges out of a felt need to go beyond some of the limitations of more traditional disciplinary academic approaches, and certain established ways of thinking" (2012a, n. p.). Elsewhere, Montuori (2008) spoke of the joy of inquiry. Thus, his approach to transdisciplinarity goes beyond intrinsic motivation but is propelled by an individual's passion and emotion. ...
    ... Thus, his approach to transdisciplinarity goes beyond intrinsic motivation but is propelled by an individual's passion and emotion. Moreover, in offering his personal lived experiences of muttness, polyglotism, hybridity, and cosmopolitanism as examples (Montuori 2012a(Montuori , 2013, Montuori brought cultural diversity and relativism into the discourse of transdisciplinarity, bringing into the foreground what has been only abstractly addressed by the Swiss school as individual heterogeneity or diversity of perceptions (Pohl and Hirsh Hadorn 2008). Montuori described in detail the hybrid nature of his national, cultural, and professional identities, of not fitting into pre-existing categories. ...
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  • ... Jacobs and Nienaber (2011, 674) define this attitude as a "modest positionality," which they describe as the capacity to admit that "it is impossible to ever perfectly solve or understand an issue completely." Curiosity and creativity have been identified as the main traits of ITDRs (Augsburg, 2014;Bruce et al., 2004;Fam et al., 2017;Giri, 2002;Montuori, 2012). ...
    ... In exploring ITDRs' skills, an important distinction is made between individuals and teams because ITD research is essentially a "team science" (Wernli & Darbellay, 2016, 12). Whereas Nicolescu's overall work focuses on transdisciplinary selfhood, other authors concentrate not so much on individuals, individual behavior, or personal experience but on group function, process, and dynamics Bruce et al. (2004), de Freitas et al. (1994, Fam et al. (2017), Gibbons and Nowotny (2001), Giri (2002), Godemann (2008), Hoffmann et al. (2017aHoffmann et al. ( , 2017b, Jacobs and Nienaber (2011), Klein (2004), Montuori (2012Montuori ( , 2013, Nicolescu (1999), Robinson (2008) within teams (Augsburg, 2014;Hollaender, Loibl, & Wilts, 2008). In this case, the group identity needs to be cultivated by the team management throughout the duration of a specific project (Bruce et al., 2004;Hollaender et al., 2008;Robinson, 2008;von Wehrden et al., 2019). ...
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  • ... The strategy of simplification aspires to the traditional scientific ideal of variables isolated in the laboratory, unsullied by exogenous factors, for purposes of control and prediction (Ceruti, 2015). Integrative Transdisciplinarity draws on and addresses the lived experience of practitioners in context, in an approach that is inquiry-based, grounded in specific events and experiences (Montuori, 2010(Montuori, , 2012, rather than guided by the characteristics of a specific discipline (and thereby constrained and not able to address certain aspects of the actual phenomenon in question), and "in vivo" rather than "in vitro," to use Nicolescu's useful distinction (Nicolescu, 2008), drawing therefore on pertinent knowledge from research regardless of disciplinary origin (Morin, 2002). A complexity-based approach does not reject the need for prediction, but recognizes the inescapable uncertainty at the heart of emergent phenomena such as creativity, as well as in human knowledge more generally (Morin, 2008b). ...
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