By Frédéric Darbellay
Stay in the norm, transform it or transgress it? If many researchers and teachers are comfortable in their disciplinary fold and providing good and loyal service to a well-defined epistemic community, more atypical profiles are also emerging, contributing to inter- and trans- disciplinary diversity.
I explore three complementary figures likely to cover the spectrum going from a good and respectable disciplinary worker (the Good) to the more disturbing figure of the Outsider, with the Original in between.
But first I want to share some reflections on how originality is (not) valued.
Originality in an uncertain world
Originality seems to be one of the supreme values of the knowledge economy, increasingly promoted in times of change and uncertainty. I, you, we all have to be original to find new solutions to old, new and future problems. Health, social, financial, political, climate crises, so many great challenges of the 21st century that conformist, predictable and wait-and-see thinking cannot stem.
If the value of originality and the major role it plays in any creative process is recognized and celebrated through the examples of great innovators, it remains subject to contradictory injunctions:
- “Be original, be creative!” versus “Be compliant, follow the rules and stay in the system!”
- “Think outside the box” versus “Maintain the status quo”.
In an educational context, it is paradoxically necessary to develop transversal skills, known as 21st century skills (creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, collective intelligence, etc.), but it is also necessary to maintain the logic of teaching-learning and disciplinary evaluation, which compartmentalize knowledge and prevent dialogue among disciplines and the implementation of inter- and trans- disciplinary work.
The end of dualisms
How can we overcome these sterile oppositions between change and inertia in the academic system, between conformism and creative originality, bondage and critical thinking, stupidity and collective intelligence, disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity? Can we imagine overcoming these dualisms by laying down the principle of a possible symbiosis between different (non-exhaustive) figures in teaching and research to stimulate the impulse for change? I suggest that the three figures of the Good, the Original and the Outsider can play this role.
The figure of the Good responds to the need to transmit disciplinary knowledge in a way that guarantees the acquisition of fundamentals and allows them to be adapted to solving complex problems.
The Original contributes to the decompartmentalization of research and teaching subjects by introducing novelty, by reorganizing subjects for the resolution of complex problems and by mentally and practically equipping students with transversal and interdisciplinary skills.
The Outsider is outside the system, and it is precisely this off-screen status, this non-expertise in any traditional academic field that allows the Outsider to bring an unexpected and disruptive point of view and solutions. An example is bringing into the academic system the logic of entrepreneurial innovation and creativity.
These figures are, of course, complementary. They overlap and they are likely to develop jointly. It is therefore advisable to value them all and to say that one can individually and collectively evolve to be, at the same time, the Good, the Original and the Outsider.
Do you identify more with the Good, the Original or the Outsider? Or an evolutionary combination of two or three of these figures? Are there other possible key figures that you would argue for based on your research or your experiences?
To find out more:
Darbellay, F. (2015). Rethinking inter- and transdisciplinarity: Undisciplined knowledge and the emergence of a new thought style. Futures (Advances in transdisciplinarity 2004-2014 issue), 65: 163-174. (Online) (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2014.10.009
Biography: Frédéric Darbellay PhD is associate professor and head of the Inter- and Transdisciplinarity Unit in the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies at the University of Geneva (Valais Campus) in Switzerland. His research focuses on the study of interdisciplinarity as a creative process of knowledge production between and beyond disciplines.