Transdisciplinarity

Transdisciplinarity connotes a research strategy that crosses many disciplinary boundaries to create a holistic approach.

It applies to research efforts focused on problems that cross the boundaries of two or more disciplines, such as research on effective information systems for biomedical research or bioinformatics, and can refer to concepts or methods that were originally developed by one discipline, but are now used by several others, such as ethnography, a field research method originally developed in anthropology but now widely used by other disciplines.

Transdisciplinarity has two common meanings: in German speaking countries, it refers to integration of diverse forms of research, and includes specific methods for relating scientific knowledge in problem-solving. When the very nature of a problem is under dispute, transdisciplinarity can help determine the most relevant problems and research questions involved. Transdisciplinarity arises when participating experts interact in an open discussion and dialogue, giving equal weight to each perspective and relating them to each other. This is difficult because of the overwhelming amount of information involved, and because of incommensurability of specialized languages in each field of expertise. To excel under these conditions, scientists need not only in-depth knowledge and know-how of the disciplines involved, but skills in moderation, mediation, association and transfer.

Transdisciplinarity is also used to signify a unity of knowledge beyond disciplines. Jean Piaget introduced this usage of the term in 1970, and in 1987, the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research (CIRET) adopted the Charter of Transdisciplinarity at the 1st World Congress of Transdisciplinarity. In the CIRET approach, transdisciplinarity is radically distinct from interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity, like pluridisciplinarity, concerns the transfer of methods from one discipline to another, allowing research to spill over disciplinary boundaries, but staying within the framework of disciplinary research. As the prefix ‘trans’ indicates, transdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond each individual discipline. Its goal is the understanding of the present world, of which one of the imperatives is the overarching unity of knowledge. Another critical defining characteristic of transdisciplinary research is the inclusion of stakeholders in defining research objectives and strategies in order to better incorporate the diffusion of learning produced by the research.

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