The complexity of defining trans-disciplinary research lies in its roots. While maintaining its own niche in research disciplines, trans-disciplinary research owes much of its identity to the related structures of inquiry of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research.
The Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Centers defines trans-disciplinary research as “A cooperative effort by a team of investigators from diverse disciplines including meaningful representation of basic sciences as well as clinical or applied sciences. Normally, a trans-disciplinary team of investigators will include persons from different departments but the key issue is that the team will include members who bring markedly diverse methods and concepts to bear on the scientific theme” (Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Centers Request for Application, 2002).
To better understand trans-disciplinary research, one needs to distinguish its approach from other models. Multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research are the two models that trans-disciplinary research broadens.
In his 2004 article “Transdisciplinarity and Its Challenges: The Case of Urban Studies” Thierry Ramadier distinguished the models this way: “Interdisciplinarity differs from multidisciplinarity in that it constructs a common model for the disciplines involved, based on a process of dialogue between disciplines” (Ramadier 2004, p. 433). In other words an inter-discipline is often a discipline of its own. Examples of this synthesis of disciplines are numerous and include such fields as biochemistry, social psychology, and biological anthropology. However a second important aspect of inter-disciplinary research lies in the practice of transferring models or tools from one discipline to another. For example, scholars might apply the mathematics of topography to the study of group dynamics. In this case, according to Ramadier, the concepts of one discipline are appropriated by the other disciplines. Ramadier maintained that interdisciplinarity, like multidisciplinarity, avoids paradoxes and having to solve them, resulting in fragmented approaches in each model.
He further argued that transdisciplinarity breaks away with this type of thinking in a significant way, since the objective is to preserve the different realities and to confront paradoxes between them. Transdisciplinarity is based on a controlled conflict generated by these paradoxes, and the goal is the search for more advanced articulation rather than consensus among the disciplines involved. Ultimately, through simultaneously combining multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, transdisciplinarity transcends and incorporates these forms of thought. Ramadier argued that transdisciplinarity emerges from the confluence of the three scientific approaches of disciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, and interdisciplinarity.
In his 2004 article Roderick J. Lawrence describes multi-disciplinary research as:
Research in which each specialist remains within her/his discipline and contributes using disciplinary concepts and methods. Multidisciplinary contributions can be interpreted as the bringing together of disciplines which retain their own concepts and methods that are applied to a mutually agreed subject. In these studies one contributor will usually co-ordinate the research process and seek integration. Interdisciplinarity can be considered as the mixing together of disciplines, whereas transdisciplinarity implies a fusion of disciplinary knowledge with the know-how of lay-people that creates a new hybrid which is different from any specific constituent part. (Lawrence 2004, p. 488)
It is this “fusion” that distinguishes trans-disciplinary research from other research models. As with other models, team building is essential to success. Trans-disciplinary research, however, requires that traditional boundaries and responsibilities be set aside so that team members can fully embrace new skills and knowledge. It requires that team members be willing to step away from the prejudices of their individual disciplines and open themselves up to the perspectives of others, including laypeople, and embrace the learning that takes place when distinct ideas are threaded together. In their 1981 article Frederick Rossini and Alan Porter liken the trans-disciplinary process to a “seamless woven garment” in contrast to the “patch-work quilt” of multi-disciplinary research.
It is this holistic approach that proponents of trans-disciplinary research find so rewarding. A trans-disciplinary research model accepts that complex problems are best understood by acknowledging, from the outset, that effective solutions are more than the sum of critical perspectives from a range of disciplines. It embraces a more modern approach that calls for true collaboration, a dynamic collaboration that crosses turf boundaries and insists that team members be responsible not only for their own success, but for the success of the team as a whole.
Trans-disciplinary research has found proponents in a wide range of research environments. The trans-disciplinary approach has been used successfully in areas as diverse as disability prevention, infectious diseases, drug misuse, and physical therapy. By examining these and other complex problems from a unique vantage point, trans-disciplinary research programs may offer a new perspective on solutions to serious problems, both old and new.
While it owes its origins to interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, the trans-disciplinary model has established itself as a distinct and modern research method. Basarab Nicolescu clarifies both the approach and goals of transdisciplinarity: “As the prefix ‘trans’ indicates, transdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond all discipline. Its goal is the understanding of the present world, of which one of the imperatives is the unity of knowledge” (Nicolescu 2002, p. 44).
SEE ALSO Methodology; Social Science; University, The
Lawrence, Roderick J. 2004. Housing and Health: From Interdisciplinary Principles to Trans-disciplinary Research and Practice. Futures 36 (16): 487-500.
Nicolescu, Basarab. 2002. Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity. Trans. Karen-Claire Voss. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Ramadier, Thierry. 2004. Transdisciplinarity and its Challenges: The Case of Urban Studies. Futures 36: 423-439.
Rossini, Frederick A., and Alan L. Porter. 1981. Interdisciplinary Research: Performance and Policy Issues. Journal of the Society of Research Administrators 13 (2): 8-25.
Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Centers Request for Application. 2002. National Institute of Heath, Office of Intramural Research. http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-DA-03-008.html.
Susan G. Alexander
"Research, Trans-Disciplinary." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/research-trans-disciplinary
"Research, Trans-Disciplinary." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved January 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/research-trans-disciplinary