New Words: Post-Disciplinary and Transdisciplinary

Perhaps one of the greatest online search engine moments is when you find that perfect key word(s) that you were looking for that leads you down an entirely new road of research.  Today’s powerful keywords:  post-disciplinary and transdisciplinary.

On and off all day I’ve been reading this PDF from Professor Julie A. Buckler at Harvard College.  To be honest, I’m not quite sure to whom this article is addressed although it seems to have been directed at whomever creates the curriculum for Harvard College.  The title is, “Towards a New Model of General Education at Harvard College“.  It has been an incredibly fascinating philosophical discourse about the nature of knowledge and an argument for why universities should have a more interdisciplinary curriculum.   

How about this food for thought for the weekend:

“To continue with our survey of disciplinary evolution:  The term “postdisciplinarity” evokes an intellectual universe in which we inhabit the ruins of outmoded disciplinary structures, mediating between our nostalgia for this lost unity and our excitement at the intellectual freedom its demise can offer us.  Is the era of postdisciplinarity upon us now?  Finally, “transdisciplinarity” refers to the highest level of integrated study, that which proposes the unity of intellectual frameworks beyond the disciplinary perspectives and points toward our potential to think in terms of frameworks, concepts, techniques, and vocabulary that we have not yet imagined.  It must be acknowledged, however, that the very notion of “transdisciplinarity” may strike many of us as chimerical, sinisterly monolithic, or as a ruse for smuggling back in old dreams of objectivity and universal knowledge.  Are we then right back where we started, or does our investigation of disciplines and the nature of knowledge maintain our historical perspective?” – Julie A. Buckler

Transdisciplinary!  What a great word!  Wikipedia (2009) take over from here:

Transdisciplinary Studies are an area of research and education that addresses contemporary issues that cannot be solved by one or even a few points-of-view. It brings together academic experts, field practitioners, community members, research scientists, political leaders, and business owners among others to solve some of the pressing problems facing the world, from the local to the global.

I’d love to take a class that aims to address contemporary issues that cannot be solved by one or even a few points-of-view.  Sign me up please!  Dr. Buckler was right, why aren’t we seeing more of this incorporated into the curriculum?

I think it comes back to the fact that humans like the neat and orderly.  Dividing and classifying gives us peace of mind.  Even though I like to see the interconnectedness of all subject areas, I find it incredibly hard to imagine a curriculum without specific subject areas.  But maybe my imagination is lacking on this one who knows.  I still think it’s growing increasing important for universities to develop more interdisciplinary courses to “encourage integrative thinking” as Dr. Buckler put it.  I really suggest reading her PDF.  

More Wikipedia (2009) fun:

Programs in the United States in Transdisciplinary Studies have been created at the University of North Carolina, Woodbury University, and New York University, Claremont Graduate Univeresity among others. And in Portugal there is the Centre of Transdisciplinary Studies for Development at University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro.

Not an extensive list just yet….

OH MAN check out this burn!  I went to the Network for Transdisciplinary Research in Sweden site and this is what it has to say:  “Transdisciplinary Research (TR) responds to the observation that „the world has problems, universities have departments“ (Brewer 1999, 328). This means that TR is oriented towards problem fields in the life-world. TR complements basic research and driven by advancing disciplinary research frontiers (Hirsch Hadorn et al. 2008).”  Come on universities don’t just sit back and take that… get involved!

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2 Responses to New Words: Post-Disciplinary and Transdisciplinary

  1. Susan says:

    I found your piece googling a word I thought I had just coined…post-disciplinary! I’ve just updated my blog entry to reflect my new found humility. But, it does indicate that disciplinary trespassing is obviously in the air

  2. Erin Murphy says:

    That happens to me all the time too!! My Google searches are more and more becoming exercises in humility – but it’s also exciting to know there are many other people getting the same ideas out there!!
    Together, we’ll all reach different audiences :-)


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