By Workshop Group on Theory at 2015 Basel International Transdisciplinary Conference
Theory makes clear what transdisciplinary researchers value and stand for; we therefore have a responsibility to build and articulate it.
If we think about transdisciplinary research as a space situated between different epistemic cultures and practices, as well as being culturally contextualised, we can expect different theories of transdisciplinary research, as well as different significance and functions of theory, and different ways of working with theories, in transdisciplinary research.
Theory can contribute to the identity and development of transdisciplinary research. Theory or conceptual models can provide practical guidance to the challenging problems transdisciplinary research tackles. These can help guide the transdisciplinary research process.
Theory can make certain research fields visible, giving them a place in the landscape of knowledge. It can also make transdisciplinary research more ‘approachable’ for scientists and decision makers for whom transdisciplinarity is not a major interest.
It is important to hold theory lightly and to approach and use it pragmatically. The aim is to produce effective action rather than ideas in books.
Some functions of theory in transdisciplinary research:
- Theory can be a framework, a way to provide a scaffolding for ideas that may not be well entrenched, and a conceptual model to build bridges between concepts.
- Theory can be used to understand the situation or problem, to test relationships among components of a problem or among stakeholders, and to help explain dynamics in co-operative undertakings.
- Theory can help identify which knowledge is important and how it connects to other knowledge.
- Theory provides a signal to others about how a problem is being viewed.
Key questions for building a theory of transdisciplinary research:
- Is there are a universal theory of transdisciplinary research or only context bounded theories?
- How can theory-building be kept open and defended against those who would “close the paradigm shift” that transdisciplinary research represents?
- Is a pluralist approach to epistemologies an aspect of theory?
- To what extent does transdisciplinary research theory draw on already tested theories from disciplines, field, problems or groups? How can such existing theories be integrated in transdisciplinary research?
We welcome your responses to these comments and questions and look forward to a lively ongoing discussion.
Biography: These comments and questions were developed by participants at a workshop on “Significance and relevance of theory and theory building in transdisciplinary research. A discursive, praxeological approach” at the International Transdisciplinary Conference 2015 (8 – 10 September 2015 Basel, Switzerland).
The workshop organisers were:
- Martina Ukowitz, Institute of Organizational Development, Group Dynamics and Intervention Research, University of Klagenfurt, Klagenfurt, Austria
- Ulli Vilsmaier, Methodenzentrum, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany
- Christian Pohl, ETH Zürich, Transdisciplinary Laboratory at the Department of Environmental Systems Science, Zürich, Switzerland
The other participants were:
- Alexandra Lux, ISOE, Frankfurt, Germany;
- Kara Hall, National Cancer Institute, USA;
- Dorothy Olsen, NIFU, Norway;
- Tobias Krüger, Humboldt-Uni, Berlin, Germany;
- Cynthia Mitchell, Institute of Sustainable Futures, Australia;
- Lisa Pettibone, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany;
- Annika Frahsa, Fiedrich Alexander Universität, Germany;
- Vibeke Nenseth, CIENS/TOI, Norway;
- Merritt Polk, University of Gothenburg, Sweden;
- Judith Kahle, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Germany;
- Vareilles Gaelle
- Alejandro Guevara, Universidad Autonoma de Queretano, Mexico;
- Esther Meyer, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Germany;
- Peter Sandell, SAMK, Finland;
- Juanita Schlaepfer, ZHdk, University of Plymouth, Switzerland;
- Flurina Schneider, University of Bern, Switzerland;
- Gabriele Bammer, Australian National University;
- Ari Lindeman, Kymenlaakso University, Finland;
- Moritz Engbers, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Germany.
Moritz Engbers (Leuphana Lüneburg) transcribed the audio-recording of the workshop and Gabriele Bammer wrote this post from the workshop summary produced by the organisers.