So pleased with this article on transdisciplinary research – culmination of a decade of work with John van Breda and many masters and PhD students, as well as community organisers in Enkanini. This article is our contribution to the new global discussion about transdisciplinary research which is dominated by European institutions. Ours emerges from our African context, especially urban informality which is so pervasive across the continent. This article provides a way of understanding research that many African students long for but rarely find in their respective courses on research methodology.
Authors: John van Breda and Mark Swilling
Type of publication: Journal publication
Reference details: van Breda, J. & Swilling, M. 2018. The guiding logics and principles for designing emergent
transdisciplinary research processes: learning experiences and reflections from a transdisciplinary urban case study in Enkanini
informal settlement, South Africa. Sustainability Science, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0606-x.
Keywords: Interdisciplinary research · Transdisciplinary research · Emergent design · Multi-track transdisciplinary
processes · Boundary objects · Social transformation and innovation · Transformative knowledge co-production
Transdisciplinarity is not a new science per se, but a new methodology for doing science with society. A particular
challenge in doing science with society is the engagement with non-academic actors to enable joint problem formulation,
analysis and transformation. How this is achieved differs between contexts. The premise of this paper is that transdisciplinary
research (TDR) methodologies designed for developed world contexts cannot merely be replicated and transferred
to developing world contexts. Thus a new approach is needed for conducting TDR in contexts characterised by high levels
of complexity, conflict and social fluidity. To that end, this paper introduces a new approach to TDR titled emergent
transdisciplinary design research (ETDR). A core element of this approach is that the research process is designed as it
unfolds, that is, it transforms as it emerges from and within the fluid context. The ETDR outlined in this paper emerged
through a case study in the informal settlement (slum) of Enkanini in Stellenbosch, South Africa. This case study
demonstrates the context from and within which the ETDR approach and identifies a set of guiding logics that can be used
to guide ETDR approaches in other contexts. The study demonstrates that the new logics and guiding principles were not
simply derived from the TDR literature, but rather emerged from constant interacting dynamics between theory and
practice. Learning how to co-design the research process through co-producing transformative knowledge and then
implementing strategic interventions to bring about incremental social change is key to theory development in ways that
are informed by local contextual dynamics. There are, however, risks when undertaking such TDR processes such as
under-valuing disciplinary knowledge, transferring risks onto a society, and suppressing ‘truth-to-power’.