Rethinking the Curriculum: Toward an Integrated, Interdisciplinary College Education

By Mary E. Clark ; Sandra A. Wawrytko | Go to book overview

8 ESCAPING THE OVER-SPECIALIZATION TRAP
CREATING INCENTIVES FOR A TRANSDISCIPLINARY SYNTHESIS

Robert Costanza


WHAT IS TRANSDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH AND WHY DO WE NEED IT?

We live in a complex, rapidly changing technological society whose major problems cannot be effectively tackled using the intellectual tools of any one discipline. 1 Acid rain, global climate change, deforestation, loss of bio-diversity, and energy policy--all cry out for at least an interdisciplinary synthesis. In fact, we need to go beyond interdisciplinary to "transdisciplinary" problem solving. 2

There is increasing coordination and cooperation involved in research and management from multidisciplinarity (several disciplines with no interaction) through interdisciplinarity (some interactions) and finally to transdisciplinarity (full interaction). Despite almost universal agreement that we need the highest possible levels of integration and cooperation to address our current problems, the last several decades have seen little movement in that direction. This chapter tries to uncover the fundamental reasons for this lack of progress and to provide insights into possible solutions.

Inter- and transdisciplinary research differs from typical disciplinary research in its basic focus and goals. Disciplinary research seeks to increase knowledge and techniques within a limited intellectual sphere while inter- and transdisciplinary research are multiskilled and problem focused. We need both; the problem is how to encourage both in proper proportions.

The problem with today's academic specialization is that it is too inflexible, and hence is inappropriate in a time of rapid and unpredictable technical and social change. It is a carryover from an earlier, more stable

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