Antje Disterheft

Finding simplicity in complexity

By Antje Disterheft

Inter – and transdisciplinary research intends to respond to complex challenges our  societies are confronted with, so called ‘wicked problems’ (Levin et al., 2012) that have no easy ‘right’ or ‘wrong’-answers and where every problem is the symptom of (an)other problem(s). Inter-and transdisciplinary research seeks to go beyond the previously established barriers by science, overcoming compartmentalised knowledge of isolated disciplines and moving towards society – eventually even searching for a new contract with society. This type of research, with yet no clear definitions for itself and very much in the process of self-analysis, finding purpose and meaning, requires at the same time new training in form and content for the scientists. For this reason, the Intrepid Barcelona Training School was organised.
Striking questions for me are:
What if we would train to better listen to each other? Could we depart from there to new forms of dialogue that might help overcoming the gaps that science previously created between academia and non-academics? Could we depart from there to a new search for a vision for a sustainable now and tomorrow, overcoming the current crisis of perception of our human-nature relationship?

Scholars stress process-oriented approaches in which mutual learning can happen (Wittmayer et al. 2014). These approaches may be more time consuming, but they may enhance results and outcomes, as they would give the necessary space for reflexivity and critical reflection. Albeit emphasized along the whole training school, we did not take the time to hold on, listen, digest, reflect, simply because the programme was so ambitious that there was no time for it. Even though the training was based on mainly intellectual approaches and informative knowledge provision, something new might, however, be emerging: Sharing four intense days, meeting inspiring people and hearing about some fascinating research projects while at the same time experiencing exactly the challenges of inter- and transdisciplinary research – such as e.g. overwhelm, lack of time, difficulties in finding a common language – could be the birth of a new awareness, a stronger network, a stronger commitment. A stronger commitment to what? To find simplicity in complexity, starting by slowing down and listening to each other.
Levin, K., Cashore, B., Bernstein, S., and Auld, G. (2012). Overcoming the Tragedy of Super Wicked Problems: Constraining Our Future Selves to Ameliorate Global Climate Change. Policy Sciences, 45(2), 123-152. doi: 10.1007/s11077-012- 9151-0
Wittmayer, J.M., and Schäpke, N. (2014). Action, Research and Participation: Roles of Researchers in Sustainability Transitions. Sustainability Science, 9(4), 483-496. doi: 10.1007/s11625-014-0258-4

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