Go to ewuu.nl

By Ohad Ben Shimon, CUCo researcher-in-residence

In recent months, as part of my position as a researcher-in-residence at the Center for Unusual Collaborations (CUCo) in Utrecht, I had the opportunity to take part in meetings, conferences and social gatherings that had inter- and transdisciplinarity collaboration at their core.

But what in fact do inter- and transdisciplinarity collaborations mean?

Well, as I noticed during these last few months, it is very hard to arrive at a definition (not just of inter- and transdisciplinarity, but also of the object and process of the study) that satisfies all parties involved equally in any type of inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration. For the purpose of this post, I use this definition from Allen Repko and Rick Szotak (2021), the authors of Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory (4th edition):

“Interdisciplinary studies involve the process of answering questions, solving problems, or addressing topics that are too broad or complex to be adequately handled by a single discipline. This process draws on multiple disciplines with the goal of integrating their insights to construct a more comprehensive understanding” (Repko & Szotak, 2021, p.9).

Now while this definition gives some idea of what inter- and transdisciplinarity collaboration can mean, and my experience of researching inter- and transdisciplinarity is still evolving, I recalled an earlier work of art I experienced more than ten years ago that seemed also relevant (and refreshing) within this context.

In 2013, the Japanese artist Koki Tanaka represented Japan in the 55th International Art exhibition, at the Venice Biennale, in Italy, after having experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake, with the work “abstract speaking – sharing uncertainty and collective acts”. In this work Tanaka brings together practitioners from similar (artistic) disciplines, and documents their process of trying to accomplish (or fail in) one specific task given to the group by Tanaka.

The groups included: five pianists playing a piano at once, nine hairdressers giving a haircut to one person at once, five poets writing one poem at once, and five potters producing a single piece of pottery at once.

To get an idea of the project see below:

Watching the documentation of these processes, it is evident that even people from the same discipline have different ways to approach their task. Moreover, what becomes clear on a broader scale, from these micro-scale collaborations and acts, is that when people from similar, let alone different backgrounds, come together to achieve a mutual task, they not only try to achieve their goal, but they also form a temporary ‘community’ in the process, that has to figure out what it means to live, and work together (even if it is for a short time and for one specific task).

If the process of working together, also means figuring out how to live together, then no wonder it is hard to reach one single definition of how this should be done. Nevertheless, giving it a try, is perhaps worth the effort, if we want to evolve as educators, researchers, and human beings, in general. As my two-and-a-half old son is often told at the pre-school samen spelen and samen delen (In Dutch: play together and share together) is the best way to learn.

Want to play, share, and learn together? Get in touch: o.benshimon@uu.nl.

Featured image caption: Koki Tanaka, A Haircut by 9 Hairdressers at Once (Second Attempt) (2010). Collaboration, video documentation. 28 min.

This blog was originally published on the website of Lectoraat Change Management.