Understanding Disciplinary Specific Content within Transdisciplinarity

Within the scientific community, research is frequently completed through a disciplinary-specific framework. This disciplinarity can be seen in its focus as a way of compartmentalizing knowledge within a specific field of study. When a researcher moves to a more transdisciplinary method of thinking about a particular topic, they move away from a siloed disciplinary approach to understanding that inquiry. That transdisciplinary approach also moves the researcher to examine how they can integrate knowledge regarding thier inquiry from sources that are both from multiple academic disciplines and non-academic participants (Martin, 2017).

The integration of the information acquired from various disciplines is a complex and challenging process. It is one that requires processing and internalizing. In describing the integral method, Chaudhuri (1977) elaborates on the technique of integrating the diverse sets of data and information

“First of all, just hear it and listen, and then later on you have to think about it, you have to meditate on it. This is the procedure in our philosophical development. Never expect that as soon as you hear something you will fully understanding it” (p. 92).

In attempting to understand each discipline, some elements can be used to characterize any given specific field of practice. Augsburg (2006, as cited in Martin, 2017) describes 15 aspects that can be considered1. These elements include:

  1. Basic concepts
  2. Leading theories
  3. Modes of inquiry (or research methods)
  4. What counts as a problem
  5. Observational categories
  6. Representational techniques
  7. Types of explanation
  8. Standards of proof
  9. General ideals of what constitutes the discipline
  10. Assumptions and world views
  11. Disciplinary perspective
  12. Seminal texts/books
  13. Major thinkers
  14. Major practitioners
  15. Official professional/academic associations and leading academic journals

Developing an understanding of each of these elements within a given discipline helps to allow the transdisciplinarian to understand the particular field of study in broad strokes to assist in the integration of the knowledge between that field and other disciplines working on the same topic of inquiry. One of the complaints lodged against this list is the lack of inclusion of discipline-specific vocabulary (Martin, 2017).

In looking at my direct field of practice, this can be challenging. While it would be possible to generate potential explanations for each of these criteria along with the discipline-specific vocabulary to this, it can still be arduous to integrate the complexities found within social work as a field of practice.

Thyer (2002) argues for social workers to move away from trying to survey the social work literature accurately and comprehensively. He promotes focusing on developing problem-specific knowledge, and having social workers contribute through interdisciplinary developments. Some of the challenges in defining social work knowledge as a distinct field is related to the identification of journals, along with difficulties if we only review social work specific journal versus reviewing non-social work journals. There are many journals focused predominately on social work, but social workers do not only publish in discipline-specific journals. It is limiting only to include social work focused journals, and the non-social work journals can be an exacting task to determine who is social workers in other publications. Many journals, especially those that follow guidelines set out by the American Psychological Association, do not include the researchers’ credentials or disciplinary affiliations. Even looking at the author’s university affilations, does not accurately provide information if the author is a social worker, as many social work programs have non-social work faculty.

To be able to explore inquiry related to trauma, resilience, and growth and development, it is useful to look through the lens of a social worker. Knowledge should be integrated from this field of study along with those of psychology, medical sciences, and neurology. To view the problem of resiliency for youth, the field of education also becomes a crucial discipline to examine.


Chaudhuri, H. (1977). The evolution of integral consciousness. Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Pub. House.

Martin, V. (2017). Transdisciplinarity revealed: What librarians need to know. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Thyer, B. A. (2002). Developing discipline-specific knowledge for social work: Is it possible? Journal of Social Work Education, 38(1), 101-113. https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2002.10779085


This essay was first posted as a discussion start for TSD 8130 - Transdisciplinarity.

  1. Martin’s text describes this as 16 elements, but the list contained in the book only lists 15 elements. Due to time constraints related to writing this essay and not having direct access to the original material, this has been adapted to describe it as 15 elements.