Imaginative transdisciplinarity

Monday 9th August 2010
Arabena paradigm: Courtesy:

No getting away from it, transdisciplinarity is an ugly mouthful of syllables. It is also an ambigious term, with no complete history and no consensus as to its meaning. Those who have tried to work with it have found it hard to get research work published, cannot be counted experts at anything, not to mention having their careers messed up by it. And yet it may be the ultimate route to tackle and solve what are defined as "wicked problems," not to mention a route to a new form of creativity.

Small wonder then that what will lure you to picking up this book is it's  cover picture and the title bold reverse out title of "Tackling Wicked Problems" with the smaller almost afterthought of "through the transdisciplinary imagination."

"A wicked problem is a complex issue that defies complete definition, for which there can be no final solution, since any resolution generates further issues, and where solution are not true or false or good or bad, but the best that can be done at the time. Such problems are not morally wicked but diabolical in that they resist all the usual attempts to solve them."

Thanks to the arrival of the nano age, nano materials and nano solutions, the scientific world has become quite content with the term multidisciplinary research.

It is pointed out that in "multidisciplinary research, each discipline works in a self-contained manner and in interdisciplinary research, an issue is approached from a range of discipline perspectives integrated to provide a system outcome.

"But in transdisciplinary research, the focus is on the 'organisation' of knowledge around complex heterogeneous domains, rather than disciplines and subject into which knowledge is commonly organised. Interdisciplinary approach is to do with a mixing of discipline transdisciplinary ones have more to do with a fusion of disciplines.

"Rather than following the fixed trajectories of pre-existing research pathways, addressing wicked problem involves the inquirer and decision maker in exploring the full range of investigative avenues.

The task suggested by the authors "is to draw on all our intellectual resources, valuing the contributions of all the academic disciplines as well as other ways in which we construct our knowledge. And that brings the challenge of developing open transdiciplinary modes of inquiry capable of meeting the needs of the individual, the community, the specialist tradition and influential organisations and allows for a holistic leap of the imagination."

Paradigm lost?
If there could be said to be essential chapters, don't miss 11c by Kerry Arabena (left).

"I am a descendant of the Meriam people, from Murray Island in the Torres Straits, one of a cluster of islands that lies between mainland Australia and New Guinea," she writes, giving a powerful indigenous paradigm as a different kind of knowing, a different way of knowing.

"When do I listen? What are my ceremonies? What do I need to know? Wouldn't it be interesting if...? What is sacred? What am I prepared to die for? What would make me want to live? What would allow me to supplicate or surrender? What am I held by? What is the largest construct that holds me?

Also as with all detective novels, the last chapter is a must! Author and editor Emeritus Professor Valerie Brown (right) sums up how in Part 1 an environmental and a public health scientists with a a human ecologist and a psychologist set out a framework for an imaginative transdisciplinary inquiry.

In Part 2, eighteen practitioners of open transdisciplinary inquiry investigate in fifteen research papers their issues, from the multiple perspectives of individual, community, specialised, organisation and holistic construction of knowledge.

The book proposes that the resolution of a wicked problem as described in Chapters 1 and 4 will best be served by a collective open imaginative, transdisciplinary inquiry. The next question is can open transdisciplinary inquiry ever meet the conditions of being a science or even a disciplined form of enquiry?

You owe it to yourself to read the book for your answer.

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