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Interdisciplinarity and complexity: An evolving relationship

E:CO Special Double Issue Vol. 6 Nos. 1-2 2004 pp. 2-10

Interdisciplinarity and complexity:

An evolving relationship*
Julie Thompson Klein
Interdisciplinary Studies Program, Wayne State University, USA

In recent decades, the ideas of interdisciplinarity structure (1984: 71-72).

and complexity have become increasingly en-
twined. This convergence invites an exploration As the new science of complexity developed,
of the links and their implications. The implica- complexity also became a keyword in discussions of
tions span the nature of knowledge, the structure interdisciplinarity. In their paper “Advancing inter-
of the university, the character of problem solv- GLVFLSOLQDU\VWXGLHVr.OHLQDQG1HZHOO  GHìQHG
ing, the dialogue between science and humani- inter-disciplinary study as “a process of answering a
ties, and the theoretical relationship of the two question, solving a problem, or addressing a topic that
underlying ideas. is too broad or complex to be dealt with adequately
by a single discipline or profession.” In a study of

oth interdisciplinarity and complexity are mod- overlapping thought in subjects, Ursula Hübenthal
ern ideas. However, the underlying concepts of (1994) explained that interdisciplinary collaboration
interdisciplinarity - breadth and general knowl- is required because “problems are much too complex
edge, integration, and synthesis - are ancient. Orga- to be judged appropriately, much less solved, merely
nized programs date to the opening decades of the with the subject-knowledge of a single discipline.” In
twentieth century, in social science research and the commenting on prospects for social sciences, Marilyn
core curriculum and general education movements. Stember (1991) exhorted participants in interdisci-
Precedents for the idea of complexity are traced to the plinary efforts to “have an eye toward the holistic
early twentieth century, in disciplines such as biol- complex of interrelationships.” Regarding the inherent
ogy and philosophy. The new science of complexity, complexity of health care issues, Bryan Turner (1990)
though, developed in the latter half of the century. In asserted that “Given the complexity of health issues,
recent decades, the two ideas have become increasingly the approach of medical and sciences ought to be in-
entwined. terdisciplinary.” And, in a discussion of multicultural
curriculum reform, Grant Cornwell and Eve Stoddard
The link between the two ideas was evident in (1994) declared that “Cultures, in their ever-shifting in-
the earliest major theories about interdisciplinarity. At teractions and complexities, need to be both researched
WKHìUVWLQWHUQDWLRQDOFRQIHUHQFHRQLQWHUGLVFLSOLQDU\ and taught from interdisciplinary perspectives” (after
research and higher education, Erich Jantsch called Newell in Issues in Integrative Studies, 2001).
for a new approach capable of fostering judgment in
“complex and dynamically changing situations” (1972: Complexity is no less plural than interdisci-
102). Indicative of the era, the organizing languages of plinarity. The idea is wide ranging and the boundaries
Jantsch’s model of the system of education and innova- RI GHìQLWLRQ íXLG 6\VWHPV WKHRULVWV KDYH GLIIHULQJ
tion were logic, cybernetics, planning, general systems commitments to dynamical systems theory, nonlinear
theory, and organizational theory. A decade later, S. dynamics, systems dynamics, and complex dynamics.
Smirnov (1984) identified “system-complex inter- Complexity and interdisciplinarity are linked in a wide
disciplinarity” as one of the main ontological forms range of practices, from literary studies, physics, and
of interdisciplinary development in modern science. biology to education, public policy, and environmen-
Smirnov believed the discovery of systems-forming tal studies. The starting point varies - the knowledge
and system-organizing links and regularities among explosion, cultural diversity, social and technological
distinct diverse departments, parts, and elements problems, or multifaceted concepts such as the body,
held the promise of elaborating a common theoretical the mind, or life. The pairings of these two ideas have
powerful implications for the most basic notions at
stake in this congress - the nature of knowledge, the
* A shorter, edited English-language excerpt of a Span- structure of the university, the character of problem
ish-language chapter based on an address delivered at solving, the dialogue between science and humani-
an international congress on “Interdisciplinary Studies ties, and the theoretical relationship of complexity and
and Complexity” at the UNAM in Mexico City; with interdisciplinarity.
permission of the editors of Estudios Interdisciplinarios
y Complejidad. Ed. Siglo XXI-CEIICH, UNAM, México.
2004. ISBN: 970-32-0864-9.
2 E:CO Vol. 6 Nos. 1-2 2004 pp. 2-10

he complexity of knowledge is suggested by the application also arose, creating new markets for genetic
current rhetoric of description. Once described technologies while raising critical questions about the
as a foundation or linear structure, knowledge status of biology in society. In the geosciences, new
today is depicted as a network or a web with multiple discoveries, tools, and approaches changed the way that
nodes of connection, and a dynamic system. The meta- research is conducted at empirical and methodologi-
phor of unity, with its accompanying values of univer- cal levels. The theory of plate tectonics fostered new
sality and certainty, has been replaced by metaphors of linkages among the disciplines of earth science and, in
plurality relationality in a complex world. Images of FHUWDLQìHOGVRIJHRVFLHQFHVWUDWHJLFDQDO\VLVFDSDEOH
boundary crossing and cross-fertilization are supersed- of identifying ‘real-world’, user-oriented problems
ing images of disciplinary depth and compartmental- and demands is called for (Neumann-Held & Rehm-
ization. Isolated modes of work are being supplanted by ann-Sutter, 2000; Haribabu, 2000; Schönlaub, 2000).
CH¼NKCVKQPUEQCNKVKQPU, and alliances. And, older values Humanities have been affected as well. The movement
of control, mastery, and expertise are being reformu- known as ‘theory’ stimulated new historical-cultural
lated as dialogue, interaction, and negotiation. Changes studies of the discursive practices of objects, such as
in the spatial and temporal structures of knowledge the body, the family, race, and the medical gaze. Such
also call into question traditional images of knowledge FKDQJHV DUH GLIìFXOW WR PDS ,Q PDNLQJ WKH DWWHPSW
as a cognitive map with distinct territories and borders in literary studies, Giles Gunn (1992) highlighted
or a tree with different branches. They are too linear. “overlapping, underlayered, interlaced, crosshatched
In their place, images of fractals, a kaleidoscope, or a DIìOLDWLRQV FRDOLWLRQV DQG DOOLDQFHVr 7KH WKUHDGLQJ
wildly growing rhizome without a central root have of disciplinary principles and procedures is frequently
been proposed (Klein, 1999). “doubled, tripled, and quadrupled in ways that are
not only mixed but, from a conventional disciplinary
The quantitative picture of knowledge is perspective, somewhat off center” (1992: 2 48-49).
another indication. By the year 1987, there were 8,530 Interdisciplinary activities interconnect in a shifting
GHìQDEOHìHOGV%\URXJKO\UHVHDUFKWRSLFV matrix with unpredictable synergistic relationships.
in science alone were being sustained by specialized
networks, and as many as 4,000 disciplines have been  $VLJQLìFDQWQXPEHURIQHZVSHFLDOLWLHVDOVR
LGHQWLìHGDVWKHUHVXOWRIDFFHOHUDWLQJGLIIHUHQWLDWLRQRI have a hybrid character. They constitute a second form
the science system. Historical separations of disciplines of specialization focused on areas missed or only par-
are still inherent in the way that universities function, tially examined by traditional disciplinary specialities.
but they are eroding and even becoming obsolete in ([DPSOHVUDQJHIURPDVWURSK\VLFVDQGDUWLìFLDOLQWHOOL-
some areas. The inner development of the sciences gence to medical anthropology and child development.
has posed ever broader tasks leading to interconnec- Hybrids also beget other hybrids, especially in the
tions among natural, social, and technical sciences. natural sciences, where higher degrees of fragmenta-
The same object - an organism - is simultaneously a tion and hybridization occur. Neuro-endocrinology,
physical (atomic), chemical (molecular), biological an alliance within physiology between endocrinology
(macromolecular), physiological, mental, social, and and neurophysiology is a second-generation hybrid.
cultural object. As mutual relations are reconsidered, Dogan and Pahre (1990) view hybridization as a gen-
new aggregate levels of organization are revealed and eral characteristic of knowledge production today. As
‘multidisciplinary’ is becoming a common descriptor innovative scholars move from the core to margins of
of research objects (Crane & Small, 1991: 197; Clark, their disciplines, specialties are recombined continu-
1995: 193; Habib, 1990: 6). The emergence of interdisci- ously, with two results:
character have evolved, many from cross-fertilizations other formal discipline or permanent committees
RI KLHUDUFKLFDOO\ XQUHODWHG ìHOGV QHZ PLVVLRQRUL- or programs that regularize exchanges;
HQWHG ìHOGV DQG VXEMHFW ìHOGV ([DPSOHV UDQJH IURP 2. informal hybridized topics, such as development,
area studies, women’s studies, environmental studies, WKDWPD\QHYHUEHFRPHLQVWLWXWLRQDOL]HGìHOGV
urban studies, and cultural studies to social psychol-
ogy, policy sciences, criminology, and gerontology to
The “jungle of phenomena” associated with
cognitive sciences and information sciences, materials
interdisciplinarity, to borrow Ludwig Huber’s (1992:
science, and molecular biology.
195) phrase, has implications for how we think about
the place where knowledge is represented - the univer-
Disciplinary change is a compounding factor.
The discovery of DNA in the 1970s was a veritable

Klein 3
Rethinking problem solving examples. The new discourse centers on problem- and

odern societies are increasingly ruled by the solution-oriented research incorporating participa-
unwanted side effects of their differentiated tory approaches. In reviewing the German-language
subsystems, such as the economy, politics, OLWHUDWXUH &KULVWLDQ 3RKO   LGHQWLìHG ìYH NH\-
law, media, and science. These systems have devel- words: problem-oriented, beyond disciplinarity, prac-
oped their own running modes or “codes,” to use tice-oriented, participatory, and process-oriented. The
Niklas Luhmann’s term (1997), that enable them to be problems to be solved do not originate with science.
highly productive. However, differentiation produces They are external developments in Lebenswelt, the
LPPLQHQW VLGH HIIHFWV LQ RWKHU ìHOGV WKDW FDQQRW EH living world. There is, moreover, a growing number
handled within the codes of the system. Indicative of problems ‘without a discipline’.
of this development, the problems of society are in-
creasingly complex and interdependent. They are not The new discourse shares several important as-
isolated to particular sectors or disciplines, and they sumptions with Funtowicz and Ravetz’s (1991) notion
are not predictable. They are emergent phenomena of “postnormal science”: it breaks free of (1) reduction-
with nonlinear dynamics. Effects have positive and ist and mechanistic assumptions about the ways things
negative feedback to causes, uncertainties continue to are related and systems operate, (2) normative social
arise, and unexpected results occur. ‘Reality’ is a nexus values uninformed by stakeholder and community in-
of interrelated phenomena that are not reducible to a SXWVDQG  WKHH[SHFWDWLRQWKDWVFLHQFHGHOLYHUVìQDO
single dimension (Goorhuis, 2000; Egger & Jungmeier, precise estimates with certainty. Likewise, postnormal
2000; Caetano, et al., 2000). science is associated with ‘unstructured’ problems
that are driven by complex cause-effect relationships.
The need for a new approach to complex prob- They exhibit a high divergence of values and factual
OHPVLVHYLGHQWDFURVVìHOGVRIKXPDQLQWHUDFWLRQZLWK knowledge in a context of intense political pressure.
natural systems (e.g., agriculture, forestry, industry, Hence, the stakes in decision-making are high, and
PHJDFLWLHV DQGLQìHOGVRIPDMRUWHFKQLFDOGHYHORS- epistemological and ethical dimensions are marked by
ment (e.g., nuclear technology, biotechnology, genet- uncertainties (van de Kerkhof & Hisschemöller, 2000;
ics). Social, technical, and economic developments also Klabbers, 2000; Nentwich & Bütschi, 2001; Truffer, et
interact with elements of value and culture in aging, al., 2001). These conditions are evident across problem
energy, health care, and nutrition. Interdisciplinarity is domains.
often endorsed as a solution, but earlier approaches dif-
fer from new transdisciplinary approaches. The history Problem domains

of interdisciplinary problem-focused research dates any of the problems professionals face are nei-
from the 1940s, initially in agriculture and defense- ther predictable nor simple. They are unique
related research. In the 1970s, industrialized nations and complex. Arising from environments
began allotting increased funding for multi- and inter- characterized by turbulence and uncertainty, com-
disciplinary research in areas of economic competition, plex problems are typically value-laden, open-ended,
especially engineering and manufacturing, computers, multidimensional, ambiguous, and unstable. Labelled
biotechnology, and medicine (Klein, 1996: 173-208). ‘wicked’ and ‘messy’, they resist being tamed, bounded,
The necessity of an interdisciplinary approach when or managed by classical problem-solving approaches.
dealing with complex systems was also being recog- As a result, the art of being a professional is becoming
nized, but the desirability of ‘progress’ and ‘growth’ the art of managing complexity. There are more tools
was taken for granted (Pivot, 2000). than ever. Sophisticated analytical methods and com-
puter software make it possible to handle increasingly
At the same time, a new discourse of trans- greater amounts of information, facilitating large-scale
disciplinary problem solving was emerging. The new PRGHOLQJDQGIRUHFDVWLQJ'HHSHUVFLHQWLìFNQRZOHGJH
discourse bridges the historical gap between calls for and technical expertise also continue to emerge from
interdisciplinarity and problem orientation, on the one the disciplines. However, complex problems cannot be
hand, and a disciplinary, practical policy of support for solved by simply applying new information and tools
natural sciences and technology, on the other hand or adding more variables to existing decision models
(Jahn, 2000). It was evident during the late 1980s in and computer programs. Complex problems are not in
Swiss and German contexts of environmental research. the book but in the “indeterminate zones of practice”
Like interdisciplinarity, ‘transdisciplinarity’ has more and the “swamp of important problems and nonrig-
WKDQRQHPHDQLQJ7KHPRVWZLGHO\UHFRJQL]HGGHì- orous inquiry.” Furthermore, they are not solved once
nition at that point was a comprehensive framework and forever. They must be continuously managed (For
for reorganizing the structure of knowledge. General a summary of this literature and an interdisciplinary
systems, structuralism, Marxism, evolution-socio- model for design, planning, and policy making, see
biology, phenomenology, and feminism are leading Klein, 1990-91).
4 E:CO Vol. 6 Nos. 1-2 2004 pp. 2-10
The aerospace industry is one of many in- in the cooperation of disciplines at the same level
dustrial and commercial contexts of complex systems during multi- and interdisciplinary research, in the
thinking. The “binomial relationship” of complexity involvement of different stakeholders in a local plan-
and cross-disciplinary structuring of knowledge, Jef- ning process, and in the cooperation of administrative
frey, et al. (2000) found, lies in interactions between bodies. It is vertical in the cooperation of disciplines at
incommensurate types of process or phenomena and GLIIHUHQWOHYHOVIRUH[DPSOHZKHQVFLHQWLìFUHVHDUFKLV
the qualitative restructuring such interactions drive. combined with best practices in a region, NGOs and
Nonlinear interactions lead to symmetry breaking. The government agencies cooperate, and local communities
dimensions of description change, and there is a quali- interact (Rhön & Whitelaw, 2000).
tative change in the variables and parameters relevant
to understanding what is happening. Cross-disciplin- New vision-enhancing tools of information
ary analysis introduces an investigative/exploratory technology and nanotechnology are enhancing the re-
element into analysis of decision issues, encouraging lationship of interdisciplinarity and complexity. They
development of response options. The logic of ‘optimal’ are capable of revealing common principles underly-
solutions is replaced by alternative criteria, such as the ing both physical and biological sciences. The same
level of consensus that options attract, their feasibil- principle of fractal branching is at work in the form
ity, and contributions to the overall sustainability of a of a river network, the veins of a leaf, and the propa-
system (Jeffrey, et al., 2000; Caetano, et al., 2000). gation of cracks in materials that are fatigued. At an
international conference on transdisciplinary problem
Application is not the only realm where com- solving held in Zurich, Robert Eisenstein of the U.S.
plexity and new forms of interdisciplinarity meet. At a National Science Foundation described a shift in sci-
colloquium on transdisciplinarity held at Royaumont HQWLìFUHVHDUFKIURPWKHPHWDSKRURIDPLFURVFRSHWR
Abbey in France, Katherine Young (2000) described a kaleidoscope. The microscope has been the dominant
research that integrates world religions, women’s image of research, manifested in the reductive approach
studies, and cross-cultural anthropology. Its inter- of taking things apart into their separate components. It
disciplinary character lies in continuous comparison was, and continues to be, a highly successful source of
across three sets of analysis: among types of small-scale knowledge. A new metaphor, though, is apparent - the
societies, among large-scale societies, and between the kaleidoscope. Turning the tube of this popular child’s
WZRJURXSV0RUHìQHO\WXQHGFRPSDULVRQVHPHUJHG toy creates shifting shapes and colors, resulting in new
that are historically and socially nuanced, producing and unpredictable patterns and hues.
interdisciplinary patterns or generalizations that are
determined inductively. Variables are then tested for The concept of ‘biocomplexity’ is an interdis-
necessity to the pattern. The transdisciplinary char- ciplinary view of interactions within biological systems
acter of research was evident in studies of women and and with their physical environments. Complexity is
religion for projects related to social issues of policy evident in the shape of a spiral at all scales, from a hur-
or law, such as euthanasia, homosexuality, and male ricane taking shape on earth to a galaxy that is 100,000
violence. Three traits made one particular project light years across to gravitational waves across the
transdisciplinary. It was mega in size, focusing on largest scales of the universe. Computers can generate
men’s roles and realities across time and cultures. It three-dimensional models of everything from a human
was complex, addressing distinctions of gender in the heart to a landscape, envisioning the heart’s electrical
organization of cultures. And, it was elusive, grappling activity and, with terascale computing, facilitating
before (in Somerville & Rapport, 2000). structures can be viewed at the level of red blood cells
and microelectronic mechanical systems.
Environmental problems exemplify the new
relationship of interdisciplinarity and complexity. En- The Florida Everglades illustrates the concept
vironmental problems comprise several subproblems of biocomplexity in action. To restore the Everglades,
that fall into the domains of different disciplines and we need to know how different hydrologic schemes
social sectors, introducing a further level of complexity. will affect key species. Researchers can develop com-
There are wide variations in the preferences and values plex models of hydrological systems down to the level
of decision-makers and stakeholders over qualitative, of individual animals in panther or deer populations.
quantitative, and economic attributes of alternatives in 7KH\ DUH DEOH WR FRQVWUXFW ìQHO\ GHWDLOHG PDSV WKDW
a decision-making process (Nelson, 2000; Scheringer, show how water releases would shape habitat quality
et al., 2000). The integrative process of research in for different species. Assembling this larger picture
UNESCO’s biosphere reserves illustrates the bidirec- takes tremendous computing power, plus insights
tional complexity of multi-scalar and multi-sectoral from ecology, mathematics, economics, and society.
research on environmental problems. It is horizontal The result is a practical tool for policymakers (Colwell

Klein 5
& Eisenstein, 2001). Actually restoring the Florida farmers’ preferences. Farmers were even involved in
Everglades to ecological health, however, will require testing component disciplinary technologies at the
more than interdisciplinary tools. levels of plot, animal, and farm. Yet, they often did so
separately, and assessment of impact was done primar-
From interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary ily in bio-economic terms, maximizing criteria of yield
problem solving: North and South and income. Over the course of the project, the need
for simultaneous assessment of economic, social, and

he difference between older, linear approaches
to problem solving that combined existing environmental effects of technology interventions
disciplinary approaches and new transdisci- became apparent. If ways of improving ecosystems and
plinary research is illustrated by the paradigm shift of KXPDQZHOIDUHDUHWREHLGHQWLìHGLQWHUUHODWLRQVKLSV
sustainability. The concept of sustainability challenged between biophysical and human dimensions must be
the dominant Western paradigm of social transforma- integrated spatially and temporally. Human, policy, and
tion, embodied in older interdisciplinary concepts of technical dimensions must be integrated at the levels
modernization and development. It moved beyond of plot, household, and watershed or community. A
QDUURZ LQGLFDWRUV RI HFRQRPLF HIìFLHQF\ WR LQFOXGH holistic framework using the agroecosystem health
social justice and political regulation. In industrial- approach is needed (Jabbar, 2000).
ized countries, the participatory turn in technology
assessment and public interest in ‘co-management’ Several lessons follow from this discussion.
and ‘decentralization’ of renewal resources and envi- )LUVWLQDFRPSOH[SUREOHPGRPDLQWKHUHVHDUFKìHOGLV
ronments fostered new approaches in areas as diverse RSHQDQGLOOGHìQHGDQGWKHUHDOLW\EHLQJLQYHVWLJDWHG
as urban revitalization and rural farming. The gap be- consists of a nexus of phenomena that are not reduc-
tween North and South was also addressed. In the past, ible to a single dimension. Their meaning is context
interactions between North and South have tended to dependent, and the relationship between elements
be one-way applications of knowledge delivered by a under study constitutes a core concept for complexity
oìUVWFLYLOL]DWLRQpWRDoVHFRQGFLYLOL]DWLRQp7KH\ZHUH (Caetano, et al., 2000). Second, common ground and
not appropriate to local social, cultural, economic, a more comprehensive, holistic understanding do not
and ecological realities. They also discounted indig- derive from an idealized model of how the behavioral
enous knowledge and accessible forms of traditional pattern of the system comes about from its constitu-
technology. An imbalance continues, but new models ent parts. They emerge in the cross-fertilization of
of knowledge production and technology generation multiple methods and perspectives that are adapted
have emerged (Mey, 2001). In describing a project on to the task at hand. Third, research is multilevel. On
technology adoption in India, Hiremath and Raju the micro-level, research teams must learn to work in
(2000) emphasized that farmers did not use the so- inter- and transdisciplinary settings that are inclusive
cioeconomic variables of researchers. Scientists’ and of multiple stakeholders. On a meso-level, the science
farmers’ perceptions are shaped by their respective system is beginning to transform and to create appro-
aims. Indigenous Ghandian concepts of Swadeshi, priate curricula and institutional surroundings. On the
Trusteeship, and the cultural model of a Nine-Square macro level, political transformations have effects on
Mandala provided a more appropriate holistic view. the science system (Loibl, 2000). An added lesson is
The Mandala is a heuristic that recognizes both outer- that new forms of knowledge, institutional structure,
material and inner-non material spheres of individual and problem solving require a new dialogue of science
and family understandings of livelihood ‘security’ (Fry and humanities.
& Jurt, 2000; Hiremath & Raju, 2000).
Sustainability is a major testing ground for
A project in Ethiopia illustrates what a trans- integrating science with both humanities and social sci-
disciplinary approach to a complex environmental ences. Traditionally, natural sciences have dominated
problem requires. In the highlands of East Africa, the environmental research. Social science approaches have
rural population is caught in a cycle of underdevelop- not been incorporated into the mainstream of environ-
ment and environmental degradation. Population mental research, and environmental considerations are
pressure has pushed cultivation and livestock grazing still excluded from the mainstream of social science.
to steep slopes and fragile lands, causing serious de- UNESCO’s MOST program (Management of Social
vegetation and soil erosion. At the same time, about Transformations) aimed to bridge the natural and social
12 million ha of Vertisols (heavy though fertile soil) sciences. The project on “Sustainability as a Concept
remain underutilized because of poor internal drainage for the Social Sciences” was designed and organized by
DQGFRQVHTXHQWíRRGLQJDQGZDWHUORJJLQJGXULQJWKH the Frankfurt Institute for Social-Ecological Research.
rainy season. In designing an approach to the problem, Scholars from different branches of social sciences and
researchers considered indigenous knowledge and varied regional and cultural backgrounds collaborated.
In outlining an analytical framework for cross-disci-
6 E:CO Vol. 6 Nos. 1-2 2004 pp. 2-10
plinary sustainability research, the group called for team; local actors in development and decision mak-
greater understanding of normative issues such as ing; the local population of consumers, workers and
international justice between North and South, social residents; and the broad public represented by mass
justice within societies, equity in gender relations, and media.
democratic participation in decision-making processes.
Strategies are also needed to enhance the ability of key Calls for transdisciplinarity, Upendra Baxi
social actors to move towards more sustainable prac- (2000) emphasized at Royaumont, arrived at a mo-
tices through transformations that incorporate knowl- ment of wider crisis in the discourse of human rights
edge about the behavior of strongly-coupled social and accountability. New modes of knowledge, discourse,
HFRORJLFDOV\VWHPV6FLHQWLìFHIIRUWVDUHHPEHGGHGLQD and institutional frameworks are needed across all sec-
dynamic, self-referential process of solving social and tors of academic, private, and public life. Gaps between
ecological problems on different scales of space and Western and non-Western traditions must be bridged,
time (Becker, et al., 1997; Becker & Jahn, 1999). as well as esoteric and organic knowledges, colonial
The traditional humanities have other roles edges. One of the transgressive purposes of the new
to play. The discipline of philosophy, for instance, has discourse of transdisciplinarity is to renounce the logic
always been concerned with fundamental assumptions of instrumental reason by creating a more democratic
and values of human inquiry and relationships among discourse involving participation (Baxi, 2000). Both
knowledge forms. New problems of justice and fair- science and humanities are resituated within a broader
ness and ethics in professional practice have prompted context of social responsibility that is more than 5%,
calls for renewal of the traditional branch of ethics and the allotment for the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implica-
WKHFDSDFLW\IRUUHíH[LYLW\DFURVVDOOGLVFLSOLQHVìHOGV tions program in genome research. Nothing less than
and social sectors. At the Royaumont colloquium on Edgar Morin’s (1997) vision of a politics of civilization
transdisciplinarity, Sheldon Krimsky described the will do, a vision that requires reform of the university
applied role of epistemology in a project on ecologi- and creation of a new dialogue that bridges humanistic
cal effects of genetically-engineered crops. Krimsky DQGVFLHQWLìFFXOWXUHV
(2000) evaluated evidentiary support for scientific
claims about the risk of using new transgenic crops. Conclusion: Theorizing interdisciplinarity

proposals. Epistemic analysis of underlying assump- he relationship between interdisciplinary stud-
tions produced a more complex matrix of evidentiary ies and complexity was the explicit subject of
categories that could be used by the project member a recent debate in the U.S. William Newell
charged with reviewing environmental assessments proposed that interdisciplinarity is necessitated by
of the United States Department of Agriculture (in complexity. The nature of complex systems, he adds,
Somerville & Rapport, 2000), provides a comprehensive rationale for interdisciplin-
Language, one of the most ancient members and offers guidance for criteria in each step of the inte-
of the family of humanities, is also crucial. Languages grative process. The ultimate objective of any interdis-
of concordance exist, prominent among them general ciplinary inquiry becomes understanding the portion
systems, mathematics, and computers. They cannot of the world modeled by a particular complex system.
simply be applied, however. Emergence is one of the Invited respondents answered the proposal on several
core properties of interlanguage. At the Zurich confer- grounds. Stanley Bailis pointed to other rationale and
ence on transdisciplinarity, Thomas Bearth (2000) guides for integration, disputed the premise that there
described the challenge of achieving “communicative LVFRQVHQVXVRQGHìQLWLRQDQGFRQWHQGHGWKDWLQWHUGLV-
sustainability” in the complex multilingual context ciplinarity is warranted when complexity is absent. Jack
of Africa. Researchers must be aware of not only sci- Meek moved beyond Newell’s abstract focus, using the
HQWLìFDQGWHFKQLFDOODQJXDJHVEXWDOVRWKHoXQRIìFLDOp example of the Institute for Community Leadership to
languages and discourses of stakeholders in such vital show that the exact formulation of integrative process
problem contexts as health (e.g., AIDS), ecology (e.g., does not have to be applied consciously. However,
EXVK ìUHV  DQG DJULFXOWXUDO GLYHUVLìFDWLRQ DQG GH- Meek added, the presence of its elements will facilitate
mocratization. In both North and South, the language more collective, participatory, engaging, and inclusive
of target groups has not been viewed traditionally as a decision-making. J. Lynn Mackey questioned the no-
resource for solving problems. Reporting on a project tion that an integrated, complex system theory exists
on the future imaging of cultural landscapes in Austria, and called attention to mixed details from the Santiago
Lukesch, et al. (2000) stressed the importance of link- theory of autopoiesis, dynamical systems theory, and
HUVKDGWREULGJHWKHGLIIHULQJODQJXDJHVRIDVFLHQWLìF plex ‘behavior’ and ‘system’. Joining the respondents, I

Klein 7
acknowledged the heuristic value of the theory but also References
disputed the premise of consensus, cited competing Baxi, U. (2000). “Transdisciplinarity and transformative
theorizations, and argued that the technical restrictions praxis,” in M. Somerville, M. and D. Rapport (eds.), Trans-
of the proposed theory cannot account for all phenom- disciplinarity: Recreating integrated knowledge, Oxford,
ena that constitute interdisciplinarity. Like Mackey, UK: EOLSS, pp. 77-85.
Bearth, T. (2000). “Language, communication and sustainable
I also noted that each step in the integrative process
development,” in R. Häberli, R. W. Scholz, A. Bill and M.
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solving among science, technology and society. Workbook problem solving among science, technology, and society. An
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<>. Key works Sachbuch Verlag, pp. 296-300.
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W. Scholz, A. Bill and M. Welti (eds.), Transdisciplinarity: solving. She is past president of the Association for
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Integrative Studies (AIS) and former editor of the
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(Vol. 1), Zürich: Haffmans Sachbuch Verlag, pp. 56-67.
AIS journal, Issues in Integrative Studies. Her books
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Culture, and Interdisciplinarity: The Changing Ameri-
I: Dialogue Sessions and Idea Market. (Vol. 1), Zürich: can Academy (forthcoming in 2005).
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