6/16 – Paul Gibbs. Transdisciplinary professional learning and practice.

April - June 2015 / Book Reviews

Gibbs, P. (Ed.). (2015). Transdisciplinary professional learning and practice. New York, NY: Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-11589-4; eBook ISBN 978-3-319-11590-0

Sue L. T. McGregor

Sue McGregor

Sue McGregor

Transcisciplinary professional learning and practiceThis review profiles a recent edited collection about transdisciplinary professional learning and practice. It contains invited contributions, coordinated and edited by Dr. Paul Gibbs (Middlesex University in England). Although I wrote the first chapter, titled Transdisciplinary Knowledge Creation, I think I can share an objective review of the book.

This 200-page book contains an Introduction by the Editor and 12 chapters broken down into three sections. Section 1 (100 pages, six chapters) explores transdisciplinarity and its application to professional practice. Section 2 (50 pages, three chapters) focuses on professional workplace learning. The third section (50 pages, three chapters) examines the lived experiences of transdisciplinarity and also contains a Coda by the Editor. The book contains an Index, a Foreword (by Jonathan Garnett, Middlesex University) and a back cover endorsement from Professor Helga Nowotny (President of the European Research Council and long time transdisciplinary scholar). Seventeen (17) people (co)contributed chapters, comprising scholars from eight countries on three continents (the UK, Canada, Australia, China, Belgium, Switzerland, United States, and Austria).

In his Introduction to the book, Gibbs provides a solid overview of each chapter, so I will not repeat that here. There are very good chapters on transdisciplinarity in business, health, social care, nursing, and law professional practices. Other chapters provide deep insights into transdisciplinary research partnerships, what is involved in being a transdisciplinary doctoral supervisor, and transdisciplinarity in higher education (including work-based learning studies and graduate programs). While I highly recommend all of these contributions, I thought I might highlight some gold nuggets that emerged from iterative readings of the book:

  • We have entered a new epoch, called the Anthropocene. In their chapter, Brown and Harris define this as a label given to this time in human history when the entire planet is being affected by the power and range of human actions spurred by human ideas. The future is uncertain because of the effect of human interactions with the rest of the living and non-living systems of the planet (p. 180). The resultant wicked, messy and sticky complex problems require a transdisciplinary approach.
  • Brown and Harris also believe that the best way to deal with life manifesting in this new epoch is the emergence of the collective mind. They think this ‘new way of thinking about how we can best think’ will move us beyond the individual to the community, national and international scene. The boundaries between culture, age, gender, and capacities are become permeable, allowing the world to enter a new era of collective thought (p. 183).
  • Gibbs, in his Coda, offered the idea that transdisciplinarity is rhizomatic. This is a powerful metaphor for the new epoch called Anthropocene. The rhizome metaphor replaces the familiar tree and its roots metaphor. Instead of producing branches and leaves, rhizomes produce roots and shoots at nodes (picture a bamboo shoot). A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle. Gibbs suggests that rhizomes allow as to accommodate the complexity, chaos, unpredictability, and uncertainty of the times. A rhizome is a ceaseless establishment of connections characterized by openness with incredible strength. Rhizome is also a philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Feliz Gauttari (1987), considered to be both a mode of knowledge and a model for society.
  • My chapter developed the argument that the transdisciplinary enterprise is an educative process whereby people become more complex selves as they collectively engage in transdisciplinary work using the Nicolescuian transdisciplinary methodology. The new term transdisciplinary maturity is introduced, referring to the transformation in self that can occur when working with disparate others on complex, wicked problems. Through transdisciplinary personal growth, people can gain a maturing transdisciplinary self.
  • Maguire offered the idea of transdisciplinary translation. Her chapter respects the real issue of disparate stakeholders struggling to talk to each other while each is standing in their comfort zone (jargon, language, culture, concepts). She recognizes that in transdisciplinary boundary and border crossings, there can be no final vocabulary; rather, there is an emerging language that captures commonalties and introduces new terms or a new and appropriate application of existing ones. Transdisciplinary collaboration has been achieved when translation is no longer necessary among disparate collaborators because each person has fully integrated the others’ unique contributions (easier said than done; hence, the ongoing need for transdisciplinary translation).

I agree with Gibbs’ suggestion that this book can be read in its entirety, by themed section, or by chapter. Readers interested in transdisciplinary research and collaboration will find a home as will those concerned with what it might look like in different professions, or in university graduate programs. The title of the book is transdisciplinary professional learning and practice. In combination, the three sections orient readers to the application of transdisciplinarity in professional practice, in professional workplace learning, and in lived, transdisciplinary experiences. On the back cover, Nowotny correctly asserts that the book “offers reflective advice on integrating transdisciplinarity into teaching, research and the workplace.” Gibbs describes the hook for this book as “transdisciplinary professionalism” (p.3). The purpose of the book is to “present a range of thinking about and through transdisciplinary and professional development as an educative process” (p. 2). These three concepts are not usually conjoined and that is the unique contribution of this book; transdisciplinarity is an educative process that affects professional development and learning. The latter affect teaching, research, and practice.

About the Author

Sue L. T. McGregor, PhD is a Canadian home economist (40 years) at Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada (retired) . She was a Professor in the Faculty of Education. She is Associate Editor for the Integral Leadership Review with a focus on Transdisciplinarity. Her intellectual work pushes the boundaries of consumer studies and home economics philosophy and leadership towards integral, transdisciplinary, complexity and moral imperatives. She is Docent in Home Economics at the University of Helsinki, a Kappa Omicron Nu Research Fellow (leadership), an The ATLAS Transdisciplinary Fellow, and an Associate Member of Sustainability Frontiers. Affiliated with 19 professional journals, she is Associate Editor of two home economics journals and part of the Editorial Team for Integral Leadership Review. Sue has delivered 35 keynotes and invited talks in 15 countries and published over 150 peer-reviewed publications, 21 book chapters, and 9 monographs. She published Transformative Practice in 2006. Consumer Moral Leadership was released in 2010. With Russ Volckmann, she co-published Transversity in 2011 and, in 2012, she co-edited The Next 100 Years: Creating Home Economics Futures. Her professional and scholarly work is available at http://www.consultmcgregor.com

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