Friday, June 14, 2013

Markus Molz & Mark G. Edwards: Research Across Boundaries - Introduction to the First Part of the Special Issue

This is Markus Molz's and Mark G. Edwards's introductory essay to the recent special edition of the Integral Review (Vol 9, No 2) - International Symposium: Research Across Boundaries, Part 1.
The issue stems from an international symposium, “Research across Boundaries – Advances in Theory-building,” held at the University of Luxembourg in June of 2010.

The symposium was the first to bring together many leading "boundary spanning and meta-level researchers" from more than 15 countries across all continents and as many different research areas.
In what became a set of truly global dialogues, the participants presented and commented an astounding array of contemporary integrative frameworks, as well as inter- and transdisciplinary reviews and research practices across various fields of inquiry of high relevance for the future.
And here's a little more from later in the introduction:
This special issue brings together the contributions of many of the scholars and visionaries that participated in the symposium, plus a couple of complementary papers of resonating researchers who couldn’t make it to the event itself but were keen to make a contribution nevertheless. Our invitation was to deliver summary accounts of sustained boundary-crossing research and (meta)theory-building, often of a lifetime, to colleagues rooted in other research domains. The contributors were called to make the essentials of their sophisticated views, or more focused parts thereof, accessible to the interested public and to provide extended bibliographies for those attracted to explore the original sources of their work. Our guiding idea was to encourage boundary-crossing, on a meta-level, between mature boundary-crossing approaches that, somehow paradoxically, did not yet, or barely, come in touch with each other. The scientific committee of the symposium and its helpers volunteered to identify and invite these boundary-crossing scholars and to facilitate their meta-boundary-crossing dialogues and polylogues.

As a result, the Luxembourg symposium saw contributions offered that stemmed from quantum theoretical inspirations to cybernetics and complexity approaches, from action theory to semiotics and integrative meta-theorizing. The philosophical underpinnings included metaparadigms like transdisciplinarity, integral theory, critical realism, relational contextualism, global ethics, as well as participatory and emancipatory worldviews. Issues of boundary-crossing research paradigms and communities, of sense-making tools and theory families, institutional barriers and opportunities were all intimately considered.
About the Authors/Editors:

  • Markus Molz is currently Visiting professor at the School for Transformative Leadership, Palacky University Olomouc, Manager of the University for the Future Initiative, founding Board Member of the Institute for Integral Studies, and Associate Editor of Integral Review. He has a broad background in transdisciplinary social sciences, integral studies, meta-studies, international project development, and consulting of NGOs. His interests revolve around integral pluralism, quality of life in the Great Transition, as well as social and educational innovation. His current focus is on concrete pathways for institutionalizing integrative and transformative higher education and research. e-mail:
  • Mark Edwards is Assistant professor at the Business School, University of Western Australia where he teaches in the areas of business ethics and organisational transformation. Mark’s PhD thesis (awarded with distinction) was published in a series on business ethics by Routledge/Taylor-Francis in August 2010 and was awarded book of the year 2011 by Integral Leadership. The book focuses on the integration of knowledge as applied to the fields of organisational transformation and sustainability. Mark’s research has been published in several leading academic journals and covers a diverse range of topics including business ethics, management studies, systems research, futures studies, psychotherapy and spirituality, sustainability and organisational transformation. e-mail:
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Research Across Boundaries: Introduction to the First Part of the Special Issue 

Markus Molz and Mark G. Edwards
In the coming century, there will be an urgent need for scholars who go beyond the isolated facts; who make connections across the disciplines; and who begin to discover a more coherent view of knowledge and a more integrated, more authentic view of life. (Boyer, 1994, p. 118) 

Background and Foreground

In the context of an unprecedented proliferation of research specializations and the pressing problem-solving needs in society, Ernest Boyer and other scholars, have emphasized the special role for research that connects knowledge and that spans boundaries. This scholarship of integration complements traditional modes of specialization of knowledge. Major advances in boundary spanning research across the seams of separate paradigms, disciplines, cultures and contexts have been made in many places in recent years. Multi-paradigm and multi-method research, translation research movements, trans- and meta-disciplinary approaches, as well as cross-cultural or cross-sector participatory projects are emerging in and across many fields of research. It is no accident that these developments are surfacing at this juncture in planetary evolution.

Down through the ages, each generation of humanity has faced its own challenges, its own demons, and its own possibilities for expanding the possibilities. Sometimes the challenges are accepted, the will, the heart and the hands are tested, and life deepens and expands. Sometimes the challenges are rejected and avoided, our demons get the better of us, we turn in on ourselves and the possibilities afforded by human birth close down. Whatever our choices have been in the past, humanity has moved on. But something new presents itself in these current days. We are living in an unprecedented historical epoch, the Anthropocene (Steffen et al, 2011).

The human has irrevocably changed the planet. The impact of our actions are coming back to haunt us and our children. The challenges are now global, local and everything in between, they are with us now and they stretch out into the distant intergenerational future, they include the whole Earth system and every living thing that travels with her, they involve every aspect of the countless bio-social systems that network across her surface and which course through the intersubjective experience of every plant and animal. The possibilities for responding to the planetary challenges, and the implication of those responses, are extreme and they stretch out between a  vision for and acceptance of a profound deepening of planetary potentials and a life-destroying,  fear-laden rejection of the realities that demand our attention.

Science, the humanities, religion, art, the storehouses of cultural and indigenous knowledge, the world of lived practice and life experience will all generate their own contributions to meeting or avoiding the local, regional and global challenges that beset us. Many possibilities exist in considering these options but, whatever path we choose as individuals or as a single global family, never before have the global stakes been so high, never before has the need for planet-wide decision-making, for big-picture explanations and solutions been so pressing. Never before has human society, as a single entity, been required to develop a coherent global approach to dealing with the challenges that now confront it.

And it is no coincidence that the unfolding planetary challenge should also be accompanied by the emergence of global forms of knowing and of accessing knowledge. In no previous times has so much knowledge been intentionally produced, stored and disseminated, has there been such an extensive body of expertise in so many distinct research specializations. It is only now, in these last few years, that the products of so many knowledge traditions, institutions of learning, independent scholars, research collectives and commercial research sources from so many regions, cultures and historical periods have become accessible to so many people across the globe. The web and depth of knowledge is vast and it is available. But what sense can and will we make of it all? Down which pathways will all this knowledge lead us?

It is no coincidence that in these critical times of a global anthropogenic cocktail of crises, we are also immersed in an ocean of experience, of data, information and knowledge. Do we have the wisdom to not only develop shared knowledge from this ocean of information but also to make shared sense of it? And are we able to make use of the bigger pictures we gain from boundary-crossing experience and reflection to engage in large-scale and long-term coordinated action? This is needed to enable a dignified life for the many throughout the Great Transition (Raskin et al, 2002; Spratt et al, 2010). Under complex and volatile conditions boundary-crossing competence is also considered more and more important as a complement for domain-specific expertise (see e.g. Engeström, Engeström & Kärkkäinen, 1997, Horlick-Jones & Sime, 2004).

Responding to the need for shared sense making, there is a widespread and growing call today for building connections across disciplines, paradigms, cultures, and worldviews (see for instance Dussel, 2009; Giri, 2002, as well as Nelson and Raman in this issue). And indeed, in recent years various advances have been made in boundary-crossing research that facilitates (re)connections between theory and practice, facts and values, history and future, sciences and humanities, the knowledge traditions of East and West, North and South. Gasper (2004) says that
we should recognize and promote a complex intellectual 'eco-system' with multiple legitimate types of life-form, sub-system, and of interaction of ideas, inquirers and users (p. 310) … an eco-system within which many species and hybrids co-exist and interact … A complex eco-system requires a complex system of concepts and models to describe and understand it. ... Interaction requires mutually accessible and acceptable intellectual frameworks. (p. 327) 
In navigating through the hazards of the Great Transition we need conceptual visions with the requisite complexity and scope. Towards this end the Luxembourg Symposium was organized.

Read the whole essay and check out the new issue of Integral Review.
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