Last updated

Transdisciplinarity connotes a research strategy that crosses 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 (see 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. The Belmont Forum [1] elaborated that a transdisciplinary approach is enabling inputs and scoping across scientific and non-scientific stakeholder communities and facilitating a systemic way of addressing a challenge. This includes initiatives that support the capacity building required for the successful transdisciplinary formulation and implementation of research actions.



Transdisciplinarity has two common meanings:

German usage

In German-speaking countries, Transdisziplinarität refers to the integration of diverse forms of research, and includes specific methods for relating knowledge in problem-solving. [2] A 2003 conference held at the University of Göttingen showcased the diverse meanings of multi-, inter- and transdisciplinarity and made suggestions for converging them without eliminating present usages. [3]

When the very nature of a problem is under dispute, transdisciplinarity can help determine the most relevant problems and research questions involved. [4] A first type of question concerns the cause of the present problems and their future development (system knowledge). Another concerns which values and norms can be used to form goals of the problem-solving process (target knowledge). A third relates to how a problematic situation can be transformed and improved (transformation knowledge). Transdisciplinarity requires adequate addressing of the complexity of problems and the diversity of perceptions of them, that abstract and case-specific knowledge are linked, and that practices promote the common good. [5]

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, researchers need not only in-depth knowledge and know-how of the disciplines involved, but skills in moderation, mediation, association and transfer.

Wider usage

Transdisciplinarity is also used to signify a unity of knowledge beyond disciplines. [6]

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 [7] at the 1st World Congress of Transdisciplinarity, Convento da Arrabida, Portugal, November 1994.

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. Collaboration between stakeholders is deemed essential – not merely at an academic or disciplinary collaboration level, but through active collaboration with people affected by the research and community-based stakeholders. In such a way, transdisciplinary collaboration becomes uniquely capable of engaging with different ways of knowing the world, generating new knowledge, and helping stakeholders understand and incorporate the results or lessons learned by the research. [8]

Transdisciplinarity is defined by Basarab Nicolescu through three methodological postulates: the existence of levels of Reality, the logic of the included middle, and complexity. [9] In the presence of several levels of Reality the space between disciplines and beyond disciplines is full of information. Disciplinary research concerns, at most, one and the same level of Reality; moreover, in most cases, it only concerns fragments of one level of Reality. On the contrary, transdisciplinarity concerns the dynamics engendered by the action of several levels of Reality at once. The discovery of these dynamics necessarily passes through disciplinary knowledge. While not a new discipline or a new superdiscipline, transdisciplinarity is nourished by disciplinary research; in turn, disciplinary research is clarified by transdisciplinary knowledge in a new, fertile way. In this sense, disciplinary and transdisciplinary research are not antagonistic but complementary. As in the case of disciplinarity, transdisciplinary research is not antagonistic but complementary to multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity research.

According to Nicolescu, transdisciplinarity is nevertheless radically distinct from multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity because of its goal, the understanding of the present world, which cannot be accomplished in the framework of disciplinary research.[ citation needed ] The goal of multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity always remains within the framework of disciplinary research. If transdisciplinarity is often confused with interdisciplinarity or multidisciplinarity (and by the same token, we note that interdisciplinarity is often confused with multidisciplinarity) this is explained in large part by the fact that all three overflow disciplinary boundaries. Advocates maintain this confusion hides the huge potential of transdisciplinarity. [10] One of the best known professionals of transdisciplinarity in Argentina is Pablo Tigani, and his concept about transdisciplinarity is:

It is the art of combining several sciences in one person. A transdisciplinary is a scientist trained in various academic disciplines. This person merged all his knowledge into one thick wire. That united knowledge wire is used to solve problems that include many problems. The decision of a transdisciplinary executive is the only one that takes into account the total resolution of a problem without leaving any loose thread.[ This quote needs a citation ]

Pablo Tigani

Currently, transdisciplinarity is a consolidated academic field that is giving rise to new applied researches, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this sense, the transdisciplinary and biomimetics research of Javier Collado [11] on Big History represents an ecology of knowledge between scientific knowledge and the ancestral wisdom of native peoples, such as Indigenous peoples in Ecuador. According to Collado, [12] the transdisciplinary methodology applied in the field of Big History seeks to understand the interconnections of the human race with the different levels of reality that co-exist in nature and in the cosmos, and this includes mystical and spiritual experiences, very present in the rituals of shamanism with ayahuasca and other sacred plants. In abstract, the teaching of Big History in universities of Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina implies a transdisciplinary vision that integrates and unifies diverse epistemes that are in, between, and beyond the scientific disciplines, that is, including ancestral wisdom, spirituality, art, emotions, mystical experiences and other dimensions forgotten in the history of science, specially by the positivist approach.

Transdisciplinary education

Transdisciplinary education is education that brings integration of different disciplines in a harmonious manner to construct new knowledge and uplift the learner to higher domains of cognitive abilities and sustained knowledge and skills. It involves better neural networking for lifelong learning. [13]

Transdisciplinarity has been flagged internationally as an important aim of education. For example, Global Education Magazine, an international journal supported by UNESCO and UNHCR: "transdisciplinarity represents the capable germ to promote an endogenous development of the evolutionary spirit of internal critical consciousness, where religion and science are complementary. Respect, solidarity and cooperation should be global standards for the entire human development with no boundaries. This requires a radical change in the ontological models of sustainable development, global education and world-society. We must rely on the recognition of a plurality of models, cultures and socio-economical diversification. As well as biodiversity is the way for the emergence of new species, cultural diversity represents the creative potential of world-society." [14]

Influence in disciplines and fields

Arts and humanities

Transdisciplinarity can be found in the arts and humanities. For example, the Planetary Collegium seeks "the development of transdisciplinary discourse in the convergence of art, science, technology and consciousness research." The Plasticities Sciences Arts (PSA) research group also develops transdisciplinary approaches regarding humanities and fundamental sciences relationships as well as the Art & Science field. An example of transdisciplinary research in the arts and humanities can be seen in Lucy Jeffery's study on the work of Samuel Beckett, entitled Transdisciplinary Beckett: Visual Arts, Music, and the Creative Process .

Human sciences

The range of transdisciplinarity becomes clear when the four central questions of biological research ((1) causation , (2) ontogeny, (3) adaptation, (4) phylogeny [after Niko Tinbergen 1963, see also Tinbergen's four questions, cf. Aristotle: Causality / Four Major Causes]) are graphed against distinct levels of analysis (e.g. cell, organ, individual, group ; [cf. "Laws about the Levels of Complexity" of Nicolai Hartmann 1940/1964, see also Rupert Riedl 1984]): [15]


In this "scheme of transdisciplinarity", all anthropological disciplines (paragraph C in the table of the pdf-file below), their questions (paragraph A: see pdf-file) and results (paragraph B: see pdf-file) can be intertwined and allocated with each other for examples how these aspects go into those little boxes in the matrix, see e.g. the table "The Framework of Anthropological Research" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2014-07-07.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) This chart includes all realms of anthropological research (no one is excluded). It is the starting point for a systematical order for all human sciences, and also a source for a consistent networking and structuring of their results. This "bio-psycho-social" orientation framework is the basis for the development of the "Fundamental Theory of Human Sciences" and for a transdisciplinary consensus. (In this tabulated orientation matrix the questions and reference levels in italics are also the subject of the humanities.). Niko Tinbergen was familiar with both conceptual categories (i.e. the four central questions of biological research and the levels of analysis), the tabulation was made by Gerhard Medicus. Certainly, a humanist perspective always involves a transdisciplinary focus. A good and classic example of mixing very different sciences was the work developed by Leibniz in seventeenth-eighteenth centuries in order to create a universal system of justice. [16]

Health science

The term transdisciplinarity is increasingly prevalent in health care research and has been identified as important to improving the effectiveness and efficiency in health care. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Interdisciplinarity</span> Combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity

Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of multiple academic disciplines into one activity. It draws knowledge from several other fields like sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, etc. It is about creating something by thinking across boundaries. It is related to an interdiscipline or an interdisciplinary field, which is an organizational unit that crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions emerge. Large engineering teams are usually interdisciplinary, as a power station or mobile phone or other project requires the melding of several specialties. However, the term "interdisciplinary" is sometimes confined to academic settings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nikolaas Tinbergen</span> Dutch zoologist and ethologist (1907–1988)

Nikolaas "Niko" Tinbergen was a Dutch biologist and ornithologist who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz for their discoveries concerning the organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns in animals. He is regarded as one of the founders of modern ethology, the study of animal behavior.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stéphane Lupasco</span> Romanian philosopher

Stéphane Lupasco was a Romanian philosopher who developed non-Aristotelian logic.

Development communication refers to the use of communication to facilitate social development. Development communication engages stakeholders and policy makers, establishes conducive environments, assesses risks and opportunities and promotes information exchange to create positive social change via sustainable development. Development communication techniques include information dissemination and education, behavior change, social marketing, social mobilization, media advocacy, communication for social change, and community participation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Claremont Graduate University</span> Private graduate university in Claremont, California, United States

The Claremont Graduate University (CGU) is a private, all-graduate research university in Claremont, California. Founded in 1925, CGU is a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium which includes five undergraduate and two graduate institutions of higher education.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Erich Jantsch</span> Austrian-American astrophysicist

Erich Jantsch was an Austrian-born American astrophysicist, engineer, educator, author, consultant and futurist, especially known for his work in the social systems design movement in Europe in the 1970s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Big History</span> Academic discipline which examines history from the Big Bang to the present

Big History is an academic discipline which examines history from the Big Bang to the present. Big History resists specialization, and searches for universal patterns or trends. It examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities, and explores human existence in the context of this bigger picture. It integrates studies of the cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity using empirical evidence to explore cause-and-effect relations, and is taught at universities and primary and secondary schools often using web-based interactive presentations.

Daniel Stokols is Research Professor and Chancellor's Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology in the Departments of Psychology and Social Behavior and Planning, Policy, and Design, and founding dean of the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine. He also holds appointments in Public Health, Epidemiology, and Nursing Science at UCI. His recent research has examined factors that influence the success of transdisciplinary research and training programs. Additional areas of Stokols' research include the design and evaluation of community and work site health promotion programs, the health and behavioral impacts of environmental stressors such as traffic congestion and overcrowding, and the application of environmental design research to urban planning and facilities design. Professor Stokols is past President of the Division of Environmental, Population, and Conservation Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA) and a Fellow of the APA and the Association for Psychological Science.

The term interdiscipline or inter-discipline means an organizational unit that involves two or more academic disciplines, but which have the formal criteria of disciplines such as dedicated research journals, conferences and university departments. It is related to interdisciplinarity, but it is a noun used for a certain kind of unit. As shown in the example of demography below a field may be both a discipline and an interdiscipline at the same time. The example of information science demonstrates that a field may be regarded as a discipline in some countries but an interdiscipline in other countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Basarab Nicolescu</span> Romanian theoretical physicist (born on March 1942)

Basarab Nicolescu is an honorary theoretical physicist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Laboratoire de Physique Nucléaire et de Hautes Énergies, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris. He is also a professor at the Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania and Docteur ès-Sciences Physiques (PhD), 1972, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris. He was appointed Professor Extraordinary at Stellenbosch University, South Africa for the period 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2016 and was elected as Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) Fellow in 2011.

Tinbergen's four questions, named after 20th century biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen, are complementary categories of explanations for animal behaviour. These are also commonly referred to as levels of analysis. It suggests that an integrative understanding of behaviour must include ultimate (evolutionary) explanations, in particular:

An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of knowledge that is taught and researched at the college or university level. Disciplines are defined and recognized by the academic journals in which research is published, and the learned societies and academic departments or faculties within colleges and universities to which their practitioners belong. Academic disciplines are conventionally divided into the humanities, including language, art and cultural studies, and the scientific disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, and biology; the social sciences are sometimes considered a third category.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology</span> Swiss federal research institute

The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology is a Swiss water research institute and an internationally networked institution. As part of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology Domain, it is an institution of the Federal Department of Home Affairs of the Swiss Confederation. The Eawag is based in Dübendorf near Zurich and Kastanienbaum near Lucerne.

Human ethology is the study of human behavior. Ethology as a discipline is generally thought of as a sub-category of biology, though psychological theories have been developed based on ethological ideas. The bridging between biological sciences and social sciences creates an understanding of human ethology. The International Society for Human Ethology is dedicated to advancing the study and understanding of human ethology.

The concept of team science is a field of scientific philosophy and methodology which advocates using cross-disciplinary collaboration from diverse scientific fields to solve present-day problems. The field encompasses conceptual and methodological strategies aimed at understanding and enhancing the processes and outcomes of collaborative, team-based research.

Interdisciplinary Peer Review (IPR) is a peer review process with an additional focus outside of the area of the author's subject of expertise. Disciplines such as telecommunications, political science, engineering, and medicine require specific subject matter expertise, however, they still cross multiple disciplines and may require review from many alternate functional areas to achieve maximum perspective to prevent duplication or improper publication. Reviews of this nature may also cross cultures, race, and other demographics to gain perspective.

A social-ecological system consists of 'a bio-geo-physical' unit and its associated social actors and institutions. Social-ecological systems are complex and adaptive and delimited by spatial or functional boundaries surrounding particular ecosystems and their context problems.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roland W. Scholz</span>

Roland Werner Scholz is a German mathematician, psychologist, and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich. He famously coined the terms transdisciplinarity and societal didactics.

Julie Thompson Klein was a professor and scholar in the field of Interdisciplinary Studies at Wayne State University. Klein was widely known as a pioneer in interdisciplinary education, and had consulted widely in academic and other settings in the field. In 2016, she was a speaker at the Centennial Symposium of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. During her 36 years at Wayne state, her publications had been heavily cited.

Convergence research aims to solve complex problems employing transdisciplinarity. While academic disciplines are useful for identifying and conveying coherent bodies of knowledge, some problems require collaboration among disciplines, including both enhanced understanding of scientific phenomena as well as resolving social issues. The two defining characteristics of convergence research include: 1) the nature of the problem, and 2) the collaboration among disciplines.



  1. "Belmont Forum". Belmont Forum.
  2. Mittelstrass 2003
  3. Brand/Schaller/Völker 2004
  4. (Funtowicz & Ravetz 1993)
  5. Hirsch Hadorn et al. 2008, Jaeger & Scheringer 1998
  6. Nicolescu 2002
  7. "The Charter of Transdisciplinarity |".
  8. Wickson, F., Carew, A.L. & Russell, A.W. 2006
  9. Transdisciplinarity – Theory and Practice (Ed.), Hampton Press, Cresskill, NJ, USA, 2008.
  10. Hult, F.M. (2010). Theme-based research in the transdisciplinary field of educational linguistics. In F.M. Hult (Ed.), Directions and prospects for educational linguistics (pp. 19-32). New York: Springer.
  11. Collado-Ruano, Javier. Coevolution in the Big History - a transdisciplinary and biomimetic introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-06-28. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  12. Collado-Ruano, Javier. Bioethics as a transdisciplinary science of complexity: a coevolutive introduction from the Big History. p. 56.
  13. (Sindhya, 2019).
  14. Transdisciplinary Education as Ethic of the Diversity Reform in the World-Society of the 21st Century, article published by Javier Collado on June 20th: World Refugee Day in Global Education Magazine, ISSN   2255-033X
  15. Excerpt from Medicus 2005, with the authors permission
  16. See José Andrés-Gallego, 42. "Are Humanism and Mixed Methods Related? Leibniz's Universal (Chinese) Dream": Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 29(2) (2015): 118-132:
  17. Van Bewer, Vanessa (October 2017). "Transdisciplinarity in Health Care: A Concept Analysis". Nursing Forum. 52 (4): 339–347. doi: 10.1111/nuf.12200 . PMID   28547926.

Sources and further reading