By Mareike Smolka, Erik Fisher and Alexandra Hausstein
Have you ever had a fleeting impression of seeing certainty disrupted, the impulse to laugh when your expectations were broken, or a startling sense of something being both familiar and foreign at the same time?
As social scientists engaged in collaborative studies with natural scientists and engineers, we have had these experiences repeatedly while doing research.
How do different perceptions arise of what makes for ‘good’ research? How can researchers come to understand such differences and their impacts on how problems are framed, understood and responded to, as well as how they affect the ability of those contributing to the research to work together?
Differences arise because training in a discipline involves inculcating a specific way of investigating the world, including which types of questions are worth addressing; legitimate ways of gathering, analysing and interpreting data; standards for validation; and the role of values in the research process. Educating someone in a discipline aims to make the discipline’s specific approach to research ingrained and tacit.
By Katie Moon, Chris Cvitanovic, Deborah A. Blackman, Ivan R. Scales and Nicola K. Browne
How can we reduce the barriers to successful integrative research processes? In particular, how can we understand the different epistemologies that underpin knowledge?
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that asks: how do we know what we know? It is concerned with how we can ensure that knowledge is both adequate and legitimate, by considering:
what constitutes a knowledge claim, including the assumptions that are made
how knowledge is produced or acquired
how the extent of its applicability can be determined.
Accordingly, understanding and accounting for different epistemologies is important for developing solutions to contemporary challenges where a range of disciplines and practices converge, each with their own methods and assumptions regarding the adequacy and legitimacy of knowledge.
By Dena Fam, Julie Thompson Klein, Sabine Hoffmann, Cynthia Mitchell and Christian Pohl
The concept of integration is widely regarded as the crux of transdisciplinary research, education, and practice. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach or methodology. Projects and programs vary in purpose, scale and scope, problem focus, research question, mix of expertise, degree of coordination and communication, timing, and responsibility for integration. Based on findings in a study of integration we conducted (Pohl et al., 2021), we address four common questions to provide insights into transdisciplinary integration as a multidimensional interactive process.
1. Does integration require coming to consensus on a contested issue?
Not necessarily. Agreement on a final single understanding or solution is only one kind of integration.
Other kinds do not require agreement or consensus. Instead, they allow perspectives reflecting different ways of knowing related to different knowledge communities and knowers to coexist. Such other kinds of integration include:
How can local knowledge be effectively and fairly incorporated in transdisciplinary projects? How can such projects avoid “knowledge mining” and “knowledge appropriation” that recognize marginalized knowledge only where it is convenient for dominant actors and their goals? In addition, how can knowledge integration programs avoid being naive or even harmful by forcing Indigenous people into regimes of knowledge production that continue to be dominated by the perspectives of external researchers?
On the other hand, how can transdisciplinary projects avoid an exclusive focus on difference that risks creating an artificial divide between Indigenous/local and scientific knowledge and that contributes to further marginalization by denying the very possibility of meaningful dialogue?
We have addressed these dilemmas by developing a framework of partial overlaps. This is a model and methodology of relating actors beyond simplistic stories of seamless integration or insurmountable difference (Ludwig 2016, Ludwig and El-Hani 2020).
By Graham Hubbs, Michael O’Rourke, Steven Hecht Orzack
Have you collaborated with people on a complex project and wondered why it is so difficult? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Do my collaborators even conceive of the project and its goals in the way I do?” Projects involving collaborators from different disciplines or professions seem almost ready made to generate this kind of bewilderment. Collaborators on cross-disciplinary projects like these often ask different kinds of questions and pursue different kinds of answers.
This confusion can bedevil cross-disciplinary research. The allure of such research is its promise of solving complex problems by bringing together a variety of perspectives that when combined lead to solutions that any one perspective would fail to find. But combining different disciplinary perspectives also requires undertaking the tasks of translating different technical languages, reconciling different methodological preferences, and coordinating different ways of carving up the world. These tasks are difficult and it’s no wonder that cross-disciplinary research often fails to be truly cross-disciplinary.
As we enter a new decade with numerous looming social and environmental issues, what are the challenges and opportunities facing the scientific community to unlock the potential of socio-environmental systems modeling?
How can academic researchers working in transdisciplinary teams establish genuine collaborations with people who do not work in academia? How can they overcome the limitations of their discipline-based training, especially assigning value and hierarchy to specialized forms of knowledge production that privileges certain methodologies and epistemologies over others?
How can we distinguish between knowledge and ignorance and our meta-knowledge of these – that is, whether we are aware that we know or don’t know any particular thing? The common answer is the 2×2 trope of: known knowns; unknown knowns; known unknowns; and unknown unknowns.
For those interested in helping people navigate a complex world, unknown unknowns are perhaps the trickiest of these to explain – partly because the moment you think of an example, the previously “unknown unknown” morphs into a “known unknown”.
Can a dive into the philosophical depths of transdisciplinarity provide an orientation to the fundamental purpose and need for transdisciplinarity?
The earlier philosophers of transdisciplinarity – such as Erich Jantsch (1980), Basarab Nicolescu (2002), and Edgar Morin (2008) – all aim to stretch or transcend the dominant Western paradigm, which arises in part from Aristotle’s rules of good thought. Aristotle’s rules of good thought, or his epistemology, state essentially that to make meaning in the world, we must see in terms of difference; we must make sense in terms of black and white, or dualistic and reductive thinking.
How might the environmental humanities complement insights offered by the environmental sciences, while also remaining faithful to their goal of addressing complexity in analysis and searching for solutions that are context-dependent and pluralistic?
There is a long and rich tradition of scholarship in the humanities addressing environmental problems. Included under the term ‘environmental studies’ until recently, fields such as the arts, design, history, literary studies, and philosophy are now gathering under the new umbrella of the ‘environmental humanities’.