Multi/Inter/Trans – disciplinary, What’s the Difference?

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Multidisciplinary, Interdisciplinary, or Transdisciplinary? When research output is described as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdiciplinary it suggests that several disciplines are combined in contemporary problem solving. These ideas have become somewhat of a buzz word within higher education as a way of demonstrating collaboration between disciplines and highlighting adaptive pedagogical practices. But what is multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary? Are the words interchangeable? The answer many surprise you. According to Oxforddictionaries.com: multidisciplinary is an adjective that describes, “combining or involving several academic disciplines or professional specializations in approach to a topic or problem.” Interdisciplinary is an adjective that describes, “of or relating to more than one branch of knowledge.” Transdisciplinary is also an adjective that describes, “relating to more than one branch of knowledge.” So what exactly is the difference? According to Lakehead University’s “Essential Guide to Writing Research Papers,” multidisciplinarity contrasts disciplinary perspectives in an additive manner, meaning two or more disciplines each provide their viewpoint on a problem from their perspectives. Multidisciplinarity involves little interaction across disciplines. Interdisciplinarity combines two or more disciplines to a new level of integration suggesting component boundaries start to break down. Interdisciplinarity is no longer a simple addition of parts but the recognition that each discipline can affect the research output of the other. Transdisciplinarity occurs when two or more discipline perspectives transcend each other to form a new holistic approach. The outcome will be completely different from what one would expect from the addition of the parts. Transdisciplinarity results in a type xenogenesis where output is created as a result of disciplines integrating to become something completely new. Take a look at the video below and compare the practices to your own research. Do you engage in multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary research? Could your output benefit from one or more of these practices? Are there barriers or obstacles within your discipline that prevent cross-departmental collaboration? Are there opportunities for collaboration in your research? I conclude this entry with a quote from American architect, Buckminster Fuller, “in order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete. That, in essence is the higher service to which we are all being called.”  

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