Transforming transdisciplinarity: An expansion of strong transdisciplinarity and its centrality in enabling effective collaboration

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Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice and Education: The Art of Collaborative Research and Collective Learning, 2018, pp. 39 - 56
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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018. This chapter expands and enriches existing characterisations and premises of strong transdisciplinarity to develop the concept of “Transforming Transdisciplinarity”. Erich Jantsch’s, Basarab Nicolescu’s, and Manfred Max-Neef’s notions of strong transdisciplinarity all aim to stretch, transcend or reconstruct the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm. Other theoretical orientations linked by Jantsch, Nicolescu, and Max-Neef to strong transdisciplinarity, such as systems theory and complexity theory, also share similar intentions. However, whereas Max-Neef critiqued only the onto-epistemological premise of the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm in defining strong transdisciplinarity, these other theoretical orientations offer an extended, more holistic critique across six integrated meaning systems of which a societal paradigm or individual worldview could be comprised: cosmologies, ontologies, epistemologies, axiologies, anthropologies, and social visions. Each of these six meaning systems is quite distinct, but together they form an integrated, holistic framework, or mythic structure of a paradigm (Kauffman S, Humanity in a creative universe. Oxford University Press, New York, 2016). We argue that in order to be truly transformative, collaborative transdisciplinary researchers should make space to reflect on the power and influence of these six meaning systems in their research. After exploring the lineage of strong transdisciplinarity, we offer a (very) short synthesis of the dominant Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm’s intellectual roots, and then synthesise the alternative paradigms put forward by transdisciplinary theorists and the theoretical orientations linked to transdisciplinarity. What binds these thinkers together is their repeating call for shifting our efforts towards a process-focused, relational, complexivist paradigm, across all meaning systems or mythic structures. Their collective voice is the raison d’être for Transforming Transdisciplinarity. We intend for this synthesis of the premise for Transforming Transdisciplinarity to offer a stronger catalyst for collectively engaging in third order learning (Sterling S, Learn Teach Higher Educ 5:17–33, 2010) within collaborative research projects. In other words, our intent is to provide an impetus and resource for collective and individual transformative third order learning (paradigmatic stretching) within collaborative processes that could support a more holistic “strong” transdisciplinarity and thus the development of deeply restorative paradigms and worldviews. This intent stands in contrast with the status quo of the dominant Cartesian-Newtonian worldview, where we risk having our efforts inadvertently or unknowingly contribute to the root causes of the wicked complexities that we are collectively working to address.
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