A useful corpus of knowledge about what is quintessentially human in endeavour does not come about by chance. It requires unremitting scrutiny and involvement of inquirers with that particular end solely in mind. In practice, several different systems of knowledge generation claim to assist action and effectiveness, while often minimizing conflicts of interest.
Academics within universities are always hoping to apply their knowledge to the social world, but they are limited by their disciplinary boundaries. Academic careers and funding are driven by the requirement to study the outputs of their disciplines. They must use assumptions sanctioned by peers and operate within the current disciplinary consensus.
Attempts are continually made to escape disciplinary boundaries by forming inter-disciplines. However, this simply generates new disciplines with the same problems and pressures of paradigms, boundaries, academic publishing, grant funding, &c.
If experts with multiple distinct perspectives cooperate, they may offer a broader view. However, different assumptions lead to internal arguments and rivalries and the discipline of the leader (who usually organizes the funding) naturally dominates any team of supposed equals.
Specialized institutes move closer to actual activities by focusing on a single domain of social concern: e.g. media, tourism, water, leadership, security. However, focusing in one area makes it difficult or impossible to see what is common to many or all areas. Wide-ranging studies usually irritate theme-sponsors and donors: it's not what they gave the money for, is it?
These are typically pursued by commissions set up by governments e.g. for public inquiries into a scandal in some domain like child welfare, environmental safety, or disaster warning. They bring together academics, experts, consumers, lawyers, campaigners and others to grapple with the particular problem, but only for a limited time. A lawyer often chairs, to ensure balance and fair consideration of differing views. Their recommendations have to be practical, so they are highly realistic and often wise and controversial. However, they may be politicized, they are never mandated to develop fundamental knowledge, and they disperse soon after reporting.
This is the label chosen for the approach that leads to THEE. Here, the inquirer starts from the reality of human experience and refuses to leave it. It is the only approach that seeks to address the fundamentals of human effort directly. Although used quite widely, if unsystematically, by experienced practitioners reflecting on their own activities, it does not have formal social sanction as an approach. Leaders in the millennial generation appear to be feeling their way to this arena e.g. knowmads, and others who are oriented to learning through change and self-awareness.
e.g. psychology, sociology.
|Remains the established way to generate valid and reliable tools and methods.||Academic disciplines do not align with the world of action. They are designed to study their own outputs.||Career paths in the disciplinary sciences lead away from social problems and human endeavour.|
e.g. behavioural economics, linguistic psychology.
|Creates a new focus that may be highly relevant to a particular social issue.||New disciplines are created with a fully panoply of disciplinary needs and incentives.||Commitment to the new discipline becomes paramount for personal success.|
e.g. epidemiological research.
|Brings together a range of disciplinary and inter-disciplinary experts, often in a time-limited way.||No common language for inquiry. Discipline-based career pressures impede long-term collaboration.||The teams tend to become dominated by a «lead» discipline, or they factionalize and become conflict-ridden.|
e.g. media studies, family studies, peace studies.
|Organizes researchers around a common interest and practical commitment with a positive desire to generate social benefit.||Lacks links to research into similar human problems (e.g. change, conflict, decision) found within other areas of social life.||The main end-result is a repository of facts and social experiments within a specific limited area of human activity.|
e.g. commissions set up following a scandal.
|Investigates important problems and provides realistic solutions to satisfy the public and the relevant authorities.||Each is time-limited, disconnected from other inquiries, and affected by political pressures and social conventions.||New ideas and solutions may emerge, but focus on fundamentals is weak and theory lacks ownership.|
e.g. into purpose, decision, communication.
|Studies fundamentals of deliberate human activity, while respecting findings from other approaches.||Highly abstract and general except at the moment of application. Currently viewed as radical or innovative.||Fundamental knowledge about human action, from which useful intellectual technologies can be developed.|
Transdisciplinary inquiry does not and cannot substitute for any of the other approaches, each of which has a valid rationale.
Socialization: Growing up; initial schooling.
Disciplines: Books, lectures, academic qualifications.
Experience: School of Life: where a transdisciplinary approach can help.
See detailed Table.
Knowledge that directly helps people design and achieve effectively must focus on a person's experiences when fully committed and doing his or her best. Inquiry is forced to consider categories of willed action across all social settings and cultures. To remind you, such categories include: deciding, inquiring, communicating, changing, cooperating, intending, structuring, relating, valuing, performing, knowing, predicting, clarifying, benefiting, evaluating, controlling, dedicating, liberating, and many more.
Transdisciplinary study seeks to genuinely integrate and connect whatever may be relevant to any of these categories. By contrast, no social science claims, or should claim, exclusive responsibility for any volitional category.
… are studied distinctively in psychology, sociology, politics, economics, philosophy, anthropology and business studies without much reference to each other and with few cumulative integrative results. By contrast, development of knowledge in the natural sciences has benefited from the way that physics, chemistry, geology, mathematics and other natural sciences have recognized the contributions of each other.
Taxonomic frameworks emerging from transdisciplinary inquiry reflect life experiences.
Remember our scope: Any personal-social state, process or institution which is in some way willed or is a manifestation ofor ; and excluding all that is reflex, automatic, unthinking, a side-effect, purely biological or non-human.
Our «unit of study» can be extremely varied—families, organizations, government &c.—and knowledge from conventional research often assists by contributing details or useful perspectives.
Originally posted: August 2009; Last updated: 2-Feb-2014.