Matthias Bergmann, Thomas Jahn
ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research, Germany
TRANSDISCIPLINARITY AS CRITICAL TRANSDISCIPLINARITY
Over the past 20 years, the transdisciplinary research approach has written a success story calling for a great deal of commitment and persistence on the part of its actors, especially in the early stages. The ITC conferences of the last decade also had a significant part to play.
This success story is, moreover, an exercise in critical self-reflection and differentiation. Today, transdisciplinary research is regarded as standard where the issues of change, transformation and sustainable development are concerned - even if there are different ideas about what transdisciplinarity is and how it should be practiced in research.
Recent years have seen the development of new approaches and framings in an attempt to strengthen the effectiveness of research in societal transformations. One consequence has been a weakening of the theoretical foundations of transdisciplinary research. Research that draws on the transdisciplinary research mode tends to transition from a scientific approach to the mere application of participatory processes.
As a result, one can observe a new debate developing between two opposites. At one end, transdisciplinarity is equated more with a straightforward design task for the participative generation of ‘problem-solving knowledge’ and its immediate testing in the implementation of social transformation strategies. At the other end, transdisciplinarity is located more within science, where it is introduced as a research principle that changes the disciplines and disciplinary boundaries when dealing with complex problems.
This—if you like—separation into a practical and a theoretical branch of transdisciplinarity is not helpful. The two sides belong together, because the scientific treatment of societal problems usually encounters gaps in scientific knowledge and is thus linked to original scientific problems.
To overcome this separation, we would like to take up the idea of a self-reflexive understanding of transdisciplinarity as ‘critical transdisciplinarity’ and give the participants some pointers along the way. We want to emphasize critique as an intellectual resource and social practice within transdisciplinary research, showing it to be a special quality of transdisciplinarity that often resonates but is seldom spelled out and used consistently. Critical transdisciplinarity can also influence and change the sciences as a whole and approaches to research in general.
Critical transdisciplinarity focuses on whether research can actually keep its promises for applicable solutions to a given problem and looks at its analytic power to better understand the current situation with regard to trust between society and science
- when there can be no clear solutions;
- when facts are questioned;
- when science is often the trigger for the problems;
- when politics is unenlightened and resistant to advice;
- when science is branded as an acquirer of acceptance.
Is the democratic opening of science and research a way to help overcome such phenomena? Is it possibly the only way? Or is it not (self-)critical enough to see its limitations? What about reflecting on the consequences and practical effects of the research results, along with the scientist’s responsibility for them?
We will present what we consider to be the four key characteristics of ‘critical transdisciplinarity’.
Special Envoy for Science in Global Policy, International Science Council (ISC), France
HOW CAN TRANSDISCIPLINARY RESAERCH BE FOSTERED IN SCIENCE POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS
HIGHLIGHTS AND PERSPECTIVES FROM THE CONFERENCE ORGANISERS
Merritt Polk, Henrietta Palmer, Tobias Buser