Australian Story on 13 April 2020 entitled Fighting Fire With Fire (https://www.abc.net.au/austory/fighting-fire-with-fire/12134242) raised the idea that Indigenous Traditional knowledge about fire ought to be valued. The story surfaced this possibility in the midst of enquiry into the terrible bushfire season 2019-2020 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fires_and_impacts_of_the_2019-20_Australian_bushfire_season ). This is not the first time the nature of Indigenous knowledge has been raised as something science ought to listen to (https://time.com/5764521/australia-bushfires-indigenous-fire-practices/ ). An Indigenous approach to anything includes a spiritual connection to the land and all that emanates from it. At one stage of the Australian Story program the main character Victor Steffensen states, ‘isn’t it time to listened to us!’.
The principle of transdisciplinarity is not about the taking away of knowledge from one discipline but rather the adding of diversity to knowledge to tackling an issue. Transdisciplinarity is about enriching a discipline by the inclusion of other methodologies in thinking, not the replacing of a methodology of a single discipline. I raise this need to listen to Indigenous voice in my latest book The Social Psychology of Risk Handbook (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/the-social-psychology-of-risk-handbook/ ).
Nicolescu (2002, 2008) made it clear that transciplinarity is not multidisciplinarity nor interdisciplinarity. Transdisciplinarity is about the movement across disciplines not multiples of relationships between disciplines. Transdisciplinarity offers liberation from the constraints of one discipline and a letting go to learn from other disciplines, perhaps even disciplines one doesn’t even understand. This is why it requires courage in science to embrace Indigenous and poetic knowledge, a knowledge it has rubbished since the Enlightenment.
Transdisciplinarity can be summarized in five key principles:
· A focus on inquiry-driven rather than discipline-driven research.
· An appreciation of meta-paradigmatic dimensions and suspending one’s own paradigmatic assumptions.
· An understanding that all knowledge is organized and the seduction of reductionism within disciplines.
· The integration of the inquirer in the subjective process of inquiry.
· That a collective across-discipline view brings a more holistic outcome.
This means that the myth of the objective enquirer needs to be suspended so that the paradigm of the inquirer is made transparent and included in the construction of knowledge, even the attributions and biases of science (Kuhn). Transdisciplinary inquiry integrates the inquirer into the inquiry and validates the subjectivities of other disciplines. This means that the inquirer’s assumptions, history, emotions and biases are included and acknowledged in the inquiry process. Of course, such is the weakness of all Bodies of Knowledge in an age of increasing complexity and wickedity. At best Bodies of Knowledge represent a reductionist result of the professionalization process. And as Susskind (2015) demonstrates such a dynamic as professionalization is antiquated and backward in this age and for the future (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinarity-and-worldviews-in-risk/ ).
All inquiry should be driven by the quest for knowledge and driven by questioning rather than the territory of a discipline. The questioning ought to emerge from the challenges of the issue at hand not from some pre-existing agenda of a discipline or inquiry method. In particular, packaged inquiry methods common to the risk and safety sector need to be suspended so that blind spots and agendas are removed in open inquiry. Similarly, education in effective questioning and Socratic questioning is critical for transdisciplinarity. The more complex (and wicked) the issue the more skill is required to navigate across disciplines to a successful outcome. Often the best facilitators are generalists rather than specialists. It may seem strange but sometimes the best skill required in a crisis is effective facilitation skills.
During the Beaconsfield tragedy there were many disciplines gathered in the Emergency Coordination Operations Group (ECOG). The ECOG comprised engineers, technicians, miners, geologists, managers, an economist, safety advisor, media liaison, administrators, HR and myself (social psychology). Whenever we undertook a risk assessment at the conclusion the GM would go around the room and ask for concluding remarks often looking for consistency and agreement. Whilst all present knew how to communicate and articulate ideas, none of the disciplines specialized in the way those ideas were expressed. None had a focus on discourse, language and semiotics. It is one thing to say something and another to explore the hidden semiosis, grammar and discourse in how that something is being said. It is one thing to transport something from A to B and focus on the delivered outcome and quite another to question the mode of transport itself. In this case it was often my role to explain embedded cultural values in the process just as much as concerns about outcomes. And because the GM gave equal weight to each comment I was able to make the assumptions and attributions in people’s communications transparent, perhaps that they were not aware. The value this added to the ECOG enabled the group to make less rash decisions and better contemplate strategies and fault-lines across the group. The GM then often acted as coordinator/facilitator and final rule over these discussions and at one critical point left the meeting and allowed debate to eschew for an hour until the egos and noise dissipated, only to reemerge and make a call. This was a truly transdisciplinary group and one of the reasons why the rescue was so successful (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaconsfield_Mine_collapse ).
The last thing anyone needs in any disaster or crisis is the closed thinking (agenda) of one discipline eg. a politician, safety. The agenda of each discipline in a crisis doesn’t have to be rejected but rather suspended so that other knowledge cultures (disciplines) can contribute to the challenge at hand. At the moment in the Coronavirus crisis one would hope that leaders and managers across many departments are embracing a transdisciplinary approach.
It may seem attractive to give greater weight to medical experts and scientists during this crisis however, even that would not be wise to the exclusion of poetics and artists. What each discipline sees is different and each has a different visual field. Transdisciplinarity brings forth the best opportunity to overcome blind spots in perception (https://safetyrisk.net/visual-perception-and-the-camera-metaphor/) and sometimes even that wise spiritual Indigenous elder has something to say from which we can learn.
Brown, V., and harris, J., (2014) The Human capacity for Transformational Change, harnessing the Collective Mind. Earthscan. London.
Brown, v., et.al., (2019) Independent Thinking in an Uncertain World. A Mind of One’s Own. Earthscan. London.
Kuhn, T., (2012) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press. New York.
Montuori, A., 2008b. ‘The joy of inquiry’. Journal of Transformative Education 6 (1): 8—27.
Nicolescu, B.,2002. Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity. Albany: SUNY Press.
Nicolescu, B. (ed.), 2008. Transdisciplinarity. Theory and Practice. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Susskind, R., and Susskind, D., (2015) The Future of the Professions. Oxford. London.