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The synergies of difference: Strengthening transdisciplinary research practice through a relational methodology

Clarke, Elizabeth Anne

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There is a growing body of literature addressing the challenges of transdisciplinary research – how to do it, what it is and who is doing it. At the same time there is growing discussion and awareness in international research about wicked problems and how to deal with problems such as sustainability, inequity, inequality, food (in)security, climate change and natural resource management. These problems are described as wicked since they defy complete...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorClarke, Elizabeth Anne
dc.date.accessioned2016-11-02T04:44:30Z
dc.date.available2016-11-02T04:44:30Z
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/109821
dc.description.abstractThere is a growing body of literature addressing the challenges of transdisciplinary research – how to do it, what it is and who is doing it. At the same time there is growing discussion and awareness in international research about wicked problems and how to deal with problems such as sustainability, inequity, inequality, food (in)security, climate change and natural resource management. These problems are described as wicked since they defy complete definition, there are no final or simple solutions and any solutions are generally contested. A third body of the research literature focuses on transformational learning and knowledge creation capable of tackling contemporary social and environmental challenges. Through the study of the lived experience of transdisciplinary researchers combined with theory synthesis, this thesis contributes to further understanding of all of these inquiry areas that I propose are inseparable from the practice of transdisciplinary research. The primary aim of the thesis is to improve understanding of transdisciplinary research practice and to bring together, synthesise and test a range of frameworks that can inform and guide this practice. The guiding aspiration for my research is to access the untapped potential of transdisciplinary research practice (the practice of the researchers) to investigate wicked problems in complex systems. While the context of the thesis is research for rural development, the application of the resulting methodology is far wider, including transdisciplinary research, sustainability science and other inquiry endeavours that tackle wicked problems. Based on my own philosophical framing, one that combines constructivism with elements of critical theory, adopting a relational ontology and a pragmatist approach, I propose a relational and overarching transdisciplinary methodology in this thesis based on the following five principles: Principle number 1: A collective, inclusive approach to appreciative, context-based problem framing is needed to embrace the richness of complexity. Principle number 2: Co-production of knowledge across the boundaries of knowledge cultures and worldviews requires an inclusive, shared language for human and social inquiry. Principle number 3: Working constructively with tension is a catalyst and foundation for transformational learning and change. Principle number 4: An iterative or recursive research inquiry process is essential for transformational learning, and for theory and practice to constructively inform each other. Principle number 5: Reflection and reflexivity (both habitual and systemic) are essential to enable the researcher to constructively capture transformational knowledge co-production. These principles guide strategies to bring together vastly different worldviews, modes of inquiry and knowledge systems to create, not empty consensus, but a rich and innovative synergy for more constructive, engaged and effective problem solving. It is relational because the research practice focuses on relationships and networks and is dynamic. Underpinning this methodology (and the conceptual framework for this thesis) is an adaptation of Christopher Alexander’s pattern language (Alexander, 1977) combined with elements of Layder’s adaptive theory (2005). These two frameworks underpin my thesis research strategy with a cyclical, adaptive research approach where theory and practice inform each other, and where I synthesise sets of provisionally universal patterns as frameworks to identify and bring together specific patterns, and relationships between patterns, to form a series of ongoing solutions to wicked societal problems. The empirical research in this thesis is based on a study of three case study research for rural development projects and the transdisciplinary researchers and participants in these project teams. Case Study 1 (seasonal climate forecasting for farming to enhance food security) is the pilot study, with Case Study 2 (family poultry production and crop integration for food security and nutrition) providing the canvas for the initial development and testing of the ideas and theory. The third case study (multi-scale climate adaptation for rice farming communities) is used to test the emergent theory and is studied in greatest depth, culminating in a detailed analysis using the principles that form the basis for the transdisciplinary methodology.
dc.language.isoen
dc.subjecttransdisciplinarity
dc.subjectrural research for development
dc.subjectresearch practice
dc.subjectmethodology
dc.subjectpattern language
dc.subjectsustainability science
dc.subjectknowledge co-production
dc.subjectparadox dualism
dc.titleThe synergies of difference: Strengthening transdisciplinary research practice through a relational methodology
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
local.contributor.supervisorVan Kerkhoff, Lorrae
local.contributor.supervisorcontactorrae.vankerkhoff@anu.edu.au
dcterms.valid2016
local.description.notesauthor deposited on 2/11/2016
local.type.degreeDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
dc.date.issued2016-05-23
local.contributor.affiliationFenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University
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