Monday, November 11, 2013

A New Introductory Transdisciplinary Research Text - An Interview with Dr. Patricia Leavy

This looks like an interesting book - despite being a textbook for college course - for anyone interested in the "how-to" of transdisciplinary research.

The first introductory transdisciplinary research text with Dr. Patricia Leavy

November 10, 2013

Title: Essentials of Transdisciplinary Research: Using Problem-Centered Methodologies
Author: Patricia Leavy, Ph.D.
Publisher: Left Coast Press
Year Published: 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59874-593-1

Who is the author?

Patricia Leavy earned her Ph.D. in Sociology from Boston College. After earning her Ph.D., she taught at Stonehill College for ten years while also serving as the Department Chairperson and even the Founding Director of the Gender Studies Program. Shortly after her tenth year of teaching and conducting research at Stonehill, Patricia decided to leave the academic world and pursue a career as a full time writer. Not only is she a full time published writer now, but she is also a Book Series Editor, Commentator, Speaker, Blogger for the Huffington Post, and Co-Author. She has appeared on television and radio including The Glenn Beck Show, and Lou Dobbs Tonight.

What is your book about?

PL: Essentials of Transdisciplinary Research: Using Problem-Centered Methodologies is the first introductory text on transdisciplinary research. Universities and research institutes are organized around a disciplinary model of knowledge-building. This means that different fields are separated from each other—biology, business, literature, health studies, history, psychology, sociology, etc.—and researchers are housed within one of those fields. When they conduct research, they select topics and methods (the strategies they will use to do their research) based on their discipline. This is a very narrow conception of how we can learn about the world. Most contemporary problems and issues do not fit into the domain of only one discipline. From sustainability to health care to violence to school bullying, most contemporary issues of import have multiple dimensions and require researchers from different disciplines to come together, share their expertise and develop new ways of studying the topic at hand. Further, there are many stakeholders who are not researchers who may also be invested in the topic and have valuable knowledge and expertise and they should also be included in the research process. Transdisciplinary research brings different researchers, non-academic stakeholders and different bodies of knowledge together in order to build new and comprehensive ways of addressing contemporary crises. It is a problem-centered approach to research, instead of a discipline centered approach. Transdisciplinary research is needed in order to meet contemporary challenges; in order to do research effectively in the modern age. This book details how researchers and non-researchers can come together to design effective, useful studies and why they should, and it is the first introductory text to do so.

Who should read your book?

PL: Researchers in any field, undergraduate students, graduate students developing their thesis projects, community-based researchers and organizers, researchers at non-profits and others interested in how we can effectively confront contemporary challenges by pooling our resources and expertise.

What was your inspiration to write a book on this topic?

PL: When I became a sociologist I thought I would have an opportunity to do work that was of some use to people, even if only a small group of people. But the structure of academic life and publishing really does not facilitate that. I became disheartened and started seeking out ways that people were doing work with the potential to reach the public and be of some value. I believe in public scholarship. In other words, I don’t think that researchers should exclusively spend lots of time and money doing work that is of little value or interest to anyone else, and never reaches anyone else. We often hear things like, “Academics are out of touch and in ivory towers.” While of course that’s not entirely fair, there is some deep truth in it. By and large academic research never leaves the academy. It is published in highly specialized academic journals and no one reads them, except for a few so-called experts. But research institutions are enmeshed within communities and the research should be of some real-world value to those communities. Part of the problem is that academic researchers have a lot of incentive to work on small-scale projects by themselves, that they can complete quickly and publish with sole credit. This has little to do with actually addressing real-world problems and issues. Researchers need to pool their resources and expertise and bring in other interested stakeholders in order to effectively address real-world problems. For example, in the world of health, those with medical expertise alone can’t solve our problems. Take something like diabetes prevention. In addition to the medical dimensions there are also social, cultural, economic and practical dimensions—food supply, diet and nutrition habits (which various across different communities due to economic or cultural differences), and a host of other issues come into play. Or take the example of cyber bullying which is a concern to many parents. If a psychologist conducts a study alone about cyber bullying it may be limited to the psychological effects of bullying, the profile of potential bullies or some such subject. But there are other perspectives and stakeholders who, if included, can help build a more comprehensive approach with the potential to find solutions. A sociological perspective would look at the context in which the bullying is occurring and the interactions between the bully, bullied and bystanders. Criminology can address legal consequences or possible consequences. Computer science may offer ideas about blocking this kind of behavior. And so on. Here’s one final example I have written about a lot because I think many people can relate to it. We are all impacted by high rates of cancer, if not personally than through someone we know. We all have a vested interest in cancer research and teaching the next generation of innovative health researchers. Cancer research obviously has biological/medical components such as family history/genetics, physiological abnormalities, etc. However, disparities in cancer rates across different groups point to social issues that also impact the health profile of a group or community. These factors include: access to healthcare and screenings, access to quality healthcare, the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of specific health education programs for different groups, and the ways that gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion influence health screenings. In addition to biological and social issues, differences in cancer rates have environmental dimensions such as: exposure to toxic materials (sometimes through one’s job), pollution (air and water quality) and food quality (for example, the availability and price of organics). In short, natural scientists, social scientists and environmental scientists need to forge trans-disciplinary coalitions in order to understand and respond to the cancer crisis. This would mean that the problem at-hand, not allegiance to any one discipline, dictates our response and pushes us to work together responsively. These are the ideas that largely inspired the book which in turn I hope gives researchers and community-based organizers tools to work together and build effective projects.

What was it like to write this book?

PL: I learned more writing this book than I have on any other nonfiction project. I completely immersed myself in the literature, learning about different disciplines and the amazing work being done transnationally. I have also had opportunities to speak about transdisciplinary research at various conferences and universities which has also been a wonderful learning process. I have met people in different fields and career paths who are all committed to the idea of pooling resources and expertise to more effectively address contemporary problems. It’s been eye-opening and inspiring.

What does this book mean to you?

PL: I’m uniquely proud of this book and think it is some of my very best nonfiction both in terms of writing and the practical contribution. I don’t mind saying that the book has not quite found its audience and I hope that changes because I truly think it is a timely and valuable text. People I respect in different fields have endorsed the book and written me privately to tell me they think it is important, and of course that means a great deal to me, as do the emails I have received from students who have found the book useful.

What are you working on now?

PL: I have been asked to write a second edition of my book Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice (Guilford Press), which I am currently working on. I am also in the midst of promoting my two recent releases, Fiction as a Research Practice: Short Stories, Novellas and Novels (Left Coast Press) and my novel, American Circumstance (Sense Publishers) which is keeping me very busy.

Any advice to authors?

PL: Don’t allow your assessment of your work to be based on sales figures. They don’t speak to the intrinsic value of the work and my experience illustrates that well. I have a couple of books that have sold more than twenty times what this book has sold, that I don’t think are very good at all, and have even walked away from chances to do revised editions because I did not think they warranted it. Sometimes for any number of reasons a book does not find a large audience, or it does not find it quickly, but that does not make it less of an accomplishment nor does it have to change your relationship with the work. Focus on the quality of the work and the vision behind it.

Where to find Patricia:

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