Thursday, February 20, 2014

Summary: "The Potential of Transdiciplinarity," Gibbons and Novotny

Unique among our readings, this article is the transcript of a keynote speech given by two scholars regarding their recent book. In this unusual format, Gibbons and Novotny give a dialectical presentation, arranged into broad categories related to Mode 2 science and the transformations of knowledge production in society. Gibbons explicitly intended this speech to better clarify what he and Novotny meant in their new book, The New Production of Knowledge, “particularly as [it] bears on the issue of transdisciplinarity.” Interestingly, I did not get the sense that this piece was overwhelmingly focused on transdisciplinarity; however, it was clearly framed in that way and its content could easily be further elaborated on in that direction.

First, a quick bit about the authors. As the beginning of the article/ chapter states, Michael Gibbons is the Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities in London, and Helga Nowotny is Chair of the Philosophy and Social Studies of Sciences departments at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. It seems to me that their transnational origin is relevant, as it reinforces the worldwide scale of the many developments we have been studying.

Because it was in essence a conversation between scholars rather than a single, coherent speech, I would like to take a different approach with this analytical summary. It occurred to me about half way through reading it that, while it is not in traditional essay format, it is chock full of primary messages or main themes (evidenced by a set of keywords) that the authors each come back to frequently. Therefore, I would like to present a list/outline of keywords that I took from the piece, and quick, accessible explanations or definitions for most of them. Hopefully, this (admittedly less analytical approach) will help provide a springboard/ baseline understanding for our comparative discussion of the articles for this week in class.

  • Transdisciplinarity: an operational form of knowledge production wherein disciplinary structures are dismissed and institutional boundaries are blurred, frameworks of intellectual activity are negotiated, and “new lines of intellectual endeavor emerge and development, so that one set of conversations in the context of application leads to another and another and another.”
  • Transgressiveness of knowledge: that knowledge knows no bounds; it is rarely contained in one place very long; operates multilaterally, e.g. between science and society and society and science.
  • Mode 2 Science (specifically): a kind of second phase of science that incorporates these many key themes, and wherein “a forum is generated that provides a distinctive focus for intellectual endeavor,” and yet combines multiple contexts “in a coherent way” to open up new pathways to knowledge production.
    • Vs. Mode 1: the “fundamental” or “original” science, if you will, around which universities have been traditionally organized, where the “whole epistemology… is based on a very clear separation of science from society…. And the idea of discrete areas of specialization structured on a particular model of communication.”
  • Context & Contextualization: one of the key characteristics of Mode 2 knowledge production; the place in which “contemporary research is being carried out,” “set by a process of communication between various stakeholders”; it centers on the “people” purpose of knowledge production and situates sciences more squarely within a society to which its knowledge will be applied.
  • Society/ Societal institutions: it has and continues to dramatically change, becoming increasingly more differentiated and diffuse yet interconnected and democratized. This has vast implications for the way science is carried out (in a Mode 2) and the ultimate “people” purpose of science.
  • Multiple Stakeholders: a key feature of Mode 2 science; they carry with them multiple interests and establish multiple centers of research activity – which is very challenging for universities as the traditional centers of research; furthermore, they “bring an essential heterogeneity of skills and expertise to the problem solving process."
    •  E.g. the federal government
  • Problem Solving: a process around which multiple stakeholders negotiate the terms of their engagement
    • Patience: required for the problem solving process and transdisciplinarity in general, since the larger processes involved have high viscosity (physics reference intended).
  •  Language: a necessary medium through which to communicate, established accountability, etc. Gibbons and Novotny emphasize that another language is need (that transcends the currently utilized one) following the recent transformation of knowledge production/ Mode 2 science society has witnessed.
  • Accountability: refers to the hybrid of individual and institutional responsibility, necessary to establish to that the different stakeholders in a Mode 2 science endeavor so that “understanding how scientific knowledge is being produced opens up.”
  • Quality control: a criterion including not only “scientific excellence” but also efforts that are fundamentally “value-integrated."
  • Obstacles [to transdisciplinary efforts]
    • E.g. “Discussions over questions of quality”

My Questions

What other obstacles can you imagine are associated with transdisciplinarity/ Mode 2 science?

What will be required to arrive a new language, if the contexts of application are continually evolving and transgressing disciplinary bounds?

P.S. Does anyone else find it interesting that Word does not recognize the words interdisciplinarity or transdisciplinarity the first times you type them? I always think it must be meaningful what Word does and does not know yet.

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