Transformative Transdisciplinarity (TTDR)

Transdisciplinarity (TD) is a research methodology for doing science with society when facing societal challenges that are simply too complex for tackling from within academia only and therefore warranting societal stakeholder engagement. However, TD is not intrinsically transformative. Merely engaging with social actors does not in and of itself make it transformative. In order to be/come transformative, TDR processes must have some real knowledge & human interests — at both the practical and theoretical levels — in contributing to social change — which, in turn, needs to be guided by context-sensitive theory/praxis of change. (For more on this, please look at the PoC page).

Working on complex societal challenges in TTDR processes is particularly challenging, since it involves co-producing systems, target and transformation knowledge — not only for the better understanding (Verstehen) and explaining (Erklärung) the complexity of the challenges at hand, but also for changing them (Verändern):

  • Systems knowledge = factual knowledge of what ‘is’ (current reality or actuality);
  • Target knowledge = normative knowledge of what ‘ought’ to be as more desirable / sustainable situations — what does not exist, yet is possible — in short, potentiality;
  • Transformation knowledge = process or strategic knowledge of how to transition from an undesirable / unsustainable current reality towards a more desirable / sustainable situation — in short, moving from actuality to potentiality.

Note: potentiality does not necessarily imply a deferred reality which can only be realized at some or other point in the (distant) future. On the contrary, potentiality may very well involve discovering the evolutionary potential in / of the present via the co-construction of adjacent possibles embedded in and under the conditions of the current situation. To this end, it is important not to fall into the trap of becoming overly goal-oriented (teleological), locked into path dependent, single track social change processes with some highly idealistic / normative future scenarios that are simply too disconnected from the complexities of the current situation to be implemented in the present .

Epistemologically speaking: systems, target and transformation knowledge are three quite different — yet related — kinds of knowledge, each with their own internal logics and guiding problem statements & research questions (dynamic epistemic objects) (DEOs). Their flexibility is crucial, because TTDR processes are both shaping and being shaped by the formative contexts in which they are normally embedded — and DEOs must, therefore, also be capable of changing and being changed by said formative contexts. This is illustrated in the dynamic triadic graphic below, with the moving hand signifying some agile knowledge co-construction with (explicit) knowledge & human interests in shaping (changing) and being shaped (adapting) by the complexity of the societal challenges at hand.