Links Between Disciplines


When links are introduced between disciplines, as is the transdisciplinary way, the disparate disciplines gain opportunities to change their concepts, structures and aims (Jantsch, 1972). From a transdisciplinary perspective, disciplines need not be abolished; rather, they need to be taught and conducted in the context of their dynamic interrelationships with each other and with societal problems (Apostel et al., 1972). Wilson (1998) agrees, noting that most of the issues that vex humanity daily cannot be solved without integrating knowledge from the three major sciences (natural, social sciences and humanities). He says that only fluency across the disciplinary boundaries will provide a clear view of the world and what needs to be done to ameliorate humanity’s pressing problems.

Weislogel (2008) explains that transdisciplinary inquiry actually is dependent upon rigorous disciplinary work and the undeniable advances produced by various disciplines. The call for transdisciplinarity is not a replacement for disciplinary and interdisciplinary work; rather, it is to be a complement to existing academic practices. However, transdisciplinarity demands more from disciplines. It strives to galvanize divergent disciplines to answer life’s fundamental questions using transdisciplinary thinking (Paulino-Lima, 2010). It asks university scholars to become interdependent minded so they can value the connections among and beyond the academy that are needed to solve today’s problems. Transdisciplinary scholars know that all sectors have to work together from the outset to develop shared conceptual frameworks that integrate, extend and augment discipline-based learning (Neuhauser et al., 2007) with civil-society-based know-how and lived experiences. This work involves bridging the gaps between three elements: research and disciplines, different social groups, and different value sets, using integrative thinking (Pfund et al., 2006). Ideally, TD inquiry will engage in scientific and social learning, and understand complex problems from different perspectives, preferably in a non-politicized setting.

The Essence of a Transdisciplinary University

A transdisciplinary university would have a new purpose (Jantsch, 1972), that of seeking wisdom in addition to knowledge (Weislogel, 2007). It would restore the idea of synthesis and integral thinking to complement (but not replace) fragmentation and analysis. It would strive to create unity or a ‘symphony of knowledge’, strive for wholeness and integration of many ways of knowing (Weislogel).

A transdisciplinary university would appreciate that solutions to humanity’s problems cannot be found solely in the ivory towers of learning without involving the critical mass of the society (‘Zurich Manifesto’, 2000). The “new ‘universitas’ will be humanity-oriented” (Jantsch, 1972, p. 34). It will become one of several basic units in a decentralized, pluralistic process of shaping a global future, a common policy for society. It will be a “‘strategic antenna’ oriented toward society’s values as well as toward the future” (Jantsch, p.34).

A transdisciplinary university would have a deep respect for the integration of multiple perspectives. “Reality is complex and convoluted and the truths about it will be revealed by a multiplicity of perspectives…woven into a coherent whole whereby the differences in approaches are complementary rather than contradictory” (Albrecht, Freeman & Higginbotham, 1998, p. 57). As people from the many interacting sectors walk (weave) back and forth across their respective boundaries, as they engage in intellectual border-work (Horlick-Jones & Sime (2004), the division lines become smudged and blurred and, eventually, all boundaries become less pronounced, especially those around the disciplines (McGregor, 2009b).

Jantsch (1972) envisions that a transdisciplinary university would design itself so it integrates know-how (knowledge per se), know-what (deeper meanings), know-where-to-go, and know-why. All the while, it would position itself as an institution actively engaged in society, with society. It would lose its fear of sharing disciplinary-bound knowledge and become open to active involvement in mutually-generated knowledge along multiple levels of reality and perceptions (as posited in the 1997 Locarno Declaration (see Nicolescu, 2008, Appendix 4)).

The Transversity

This series anticipates engagement with large issues revolving around the emergence of a transdisciplinary university including its impact on early and middle stage researchers, students, administrators, knowledge generation and dissemination, the peer-review process, and future curricula. Perhaps we can even suggest a new label for this new institution – the Transversity. Currently, institutions of higher education are called universities. Uni is Latin for one. Versity stems from Latin veritas, meaning truth. Trans is Latin (trare) for to cross, over, beyond, through and zig-zag (lateral movement). Transverse means lying across something, moving from side to side (Hoad, 1996) (akin to iterative border crossing during intellectual border-work). The word Transversity could mean seeking the truth by moving back and forth among between disciplines and between the academy and civil society. This moniker respects that the new TD university (the Transversity) would succeed through a combination of: (a) disciplinary work, (b) scholarship between and among the disciplines, and (c) knowledge generation beyond academic disciplines and the academy and across sectors external to the university – the essence of transdisciplinarity (Nicolescu, 1985).