Transdisciplinarity in the Study of Human Communication: A 21st Century Challenge

By Panizo, Mapi Ballesteros | International Journal of Linguistics, March 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Transdisciplinarity in the Study of Human Communication: A 21st Century Challenge


Panizo, Mapi Ballesteros, International Journal of Linguistics


Abstract

The following article attempts to list a series of theoretical and methodological challenges language studies have yet to overcome. My claims are based on what is known as 'complex thought' and a set of conceptual tools that can be traced back to Edgar Morin's work. Applying complex thought to the domain of human communication reveals that the phonemic, grammatical, non-verbal and cognitive systems are closely related and indeed interdependent, which is why we need to adopt a transdisciplinary approach to the matter.

In accordance with this approach, I have divided my presentation in four parts, namely: (1) I will firstly provide a brief introduction to complex thought and its proposed transdisciplinary method. (2) The second part presents several conceptual tools that can help us understand the complexity of language, such as the concepts of emergence and the hologrammatic principle. (3) The third part of this article deals with a modern cognitive theory that allows us to progress by means of the transdisciplinary method I propose. (4) The conclusion provides a brief summary of previously reviewed questions.

Keywords: Complex thought, Cognition, Language, Linguistics, Transdisciplinarity.

1. Complex Thought and Complex Method: Transdisciplinarity

The development of complex thought lies at the heart of Edgar Morin's work (1981, 1982, 1987, 1992 and 2002). This author posits a radical mistrust with regards to the Descartes method and tries to show that the inability of classical science to understand the complex does not only have scientific consequences, but also affects entire cultures as well as our whole lives.

As a method, Morin's complexity attempts to implement a network-based type of relational thinking whereby the centrality of the cognitive self (le vif du sujet) turns rational thought into a hermeneutic exercise. Morin calls it the anti-method because, rather than presenting a set of rules, it tries to prompt a more general, environmental approach to the world and one's own knowledge by taking the many other perspectives into account-that is, to place our subjects of study in their own context and to produce a harmonizing, overcoming synthesis.

As Lee (2002) points out despite the holistic experience of social relations, social sciences have institutionalized a series of de-constructions by "dividing the human world into isolated domains which are intellectually separated into disciplines, and institutionally separated into college departments" (p. 210). In opposition to the kind of thinking that divides knowledge into stagnant departments; complex thought stands as a way to re-connect and alludes to the transdisciplinarity that allows for a network-based type of thinking.

As the prefix trans- indicates, transdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between disciplines, across different disciplines and beyond all discipline (Nicolescou 2000). The goal of transdisciplinarity is to understand reality, to provide an all-encompassing view of the world (Garrafa 1990); and to achieve that, it is primordial to unify knowledge. Transdisciplinarity seeks to understand the dynamics generated by the simultaneous actions that take place in several levels of reality (Nicolescou 2000).

If we apply complex thought to the domain of human communication, we come to the conclusion that the phonemic, grammatical, non-verbal and cognitive systems are closely related and interdependent. The essential category in all communication sciences (Linguistics, Cognitive Science, Mass Communication and Psychology) is that of meaning, and in order to develop a theory of communication we need to carry out an analysis of languages in relation to meaning. This results in a concept of language that blurs the dividing lines between the branches of Linguistics, Paralinguistics, Socio-linguistics, Social Psychology and Cognitive Science. Furthermore, the study of meaning needs to explain movement (emergence or dynamism) bearing in mind that the nature of thought is 'public', as humans are so essentially social that they are part of the cultural domain and act from within it. …

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