Disciplinary recipes: a visual guide!
July 2019 and ongoing
In my research proposal for my PhD at the , one of the areas of terminology I found myself disambiguating was around 'disciplinarities'.
The terms inter-, cross-, multi- and transdisciplinary are a set of words that sound like they could be synonyms, but do have more specific definitions. This came up at a ‘cooked up’ and ready to serve!hui in 2019, and luckily by then I had a useful analogy all
Subsequently, in June 2021 I gave a presentation on this content with Kate Hannah at Royal Society Te Apārangi's He Pito Mata Wānanga and I recorded a voiceover of the slides if you'd prefer to watch a video:
A typology of disciplinarities
Back in 1991, ‘enterprises within and across disciplines’:described a five step typology for
This hierarchical structure runs from intradisciplinary to transdisciplinary, with each step requiring ‘increasing integration and modification of the disciplinary contribution’ (p.5). Generally speaking, this span of descriptions is pretty set in the literature, though sometimes the bottom rungs are omitted (e,g, ) as they don't really represent collaboration across disciplines.
It was in Choi & Pak's paper (which I got to via
) that a most interesting set of examples was articulated. First as mathematical equations, and then as food:
|Food example||a salad bowl (you can still see the individual ingredients)||a fondue or stew (melting pot) (ingredients are partially distinguishable)||a cake (the output is entirely different to the individual ingredients)
It was the food analogies (or metaphors? I always tie myself in knots over those) that really struck me. I had enjoyed Alexander Refsum Jensenius's of this typology (see below), which started to cement for me how the terms were related but different (though he does a swap on the multi/cross naming convention):
So I began to wonder if illustrating the food descriptors as a little visual aid might be helpful.
At the Te Pūnaha Matatini hui, I shared this way of remembering via food with my colleagues, and my friend Phil Wilson (from the University of Canterbury and ) pointed out to me how convenient it was that you eat a meal in the order salad-stew-cake! That got me thinking about other ways to connect the ‘eating order’ to the actual terms, and I devised the following mnemonic to help me remember:
This kind of works, because as Stember articulated, this is a hierarchical structure of increasing complexity, from intradisciplinary work being wholly within one discipline, to transdisciplinary being a complex ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ transcendence of boundaries. Personally, I see this as increasing 'tastiness', and, it is an indisputable fact that in the Bailey (2019) food pyramid, cake is the apex foodstuff!:
I / Intradisciplinary (single ingredient)
Can / Crossdisciplinary (container of ingredients)
Make / Multidisciplinary (mixed up salad)
It / Interdisciplinary (intermingled stew)
Tasty / Transdisciplinary (totally blended cake)
So that's my ‘recipe book of disciplinarities’, which in more detail looks something a little like this:
Intradisciplinary working is within one discipline.
Like a single ingredient, clearly distinguishable…
Crossdisciplinary working views one discipline from the frame of reference of another.
It’s like lots of different ingredients on a plate, but without chopping them up and mixing them…
Multidisciplinary working brings disciplines together so they can learn from each other, drawing on the mix of disciplinary knowledge.
It’s like a salad: the original ingredients are intact, but the flavours begin to blend…
Interdisciplinary working starts to take a new form, integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines and synthesising into a new whole.
It’s like a stew: the original ingredients are still partly distinguishable, but the overall is a blended pot of mixed flavours…
Transdisiplinary working produces a new, novel form or way of working beyond the original disciplinary boundaries.
It’s like a cake: you can no longer see the form of the ingredients as they have taken on a different shape and flavour.
Personally, I don't feel like I've ever got truly near to a transdisciplinary practice. But, where collaborations do happen across disciplines, getting on the same page with language is a prerequisite for deepening the engagement: necessary prep to get to a stage where cake can be made, then had and eaten!
The people who did the actual hard yards!:
- Choi, B. C. K., & Pak, A. W. P. (2006). Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in health research, services, education and policy: 1. Definitions, objectives, and evidence of effectiveness. Clinical & Investigative Medicine, 29(6), 351–364.
- Jensenius, A. (2012, March 12). Disciplinarities: Intra, cross, multi, inter, trans. Retrieved 18 January 2018, from Alexander Refsum Jensenius website:
Nicolescu, B. (2010). Methodology of Transdisciplinarity–Levels of Reality, Logic of the Included Middle and Complexity. Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science, 1(1).
- Nikolov(a), J. K., Dumitriu, A., Lapointe, F.-J., Malina, R., Menden-Deuer, S., Rubin, C. B., & Vita-More, N. (n.d.). Towards a taxonomy of the challenges within typologies of collaborations between Art-Design-Engineering-Science–Humanities: A practical guide. Retrieved from
- Stember, M. (1991). Advancing the social sciences through the interdisciplinary enterprise. The Social Science Journal, 28(1), 1–14.
Resources you can use
The lovely Kathryn at Te Pūnaha Matatini asked for a poster for the meeting room. So, I thought I'd make it available. Then I thought well, may as well make a meal of it and CC the lot. So here goes!
I would really appreciate it if youif you do want to use any of these resources, just to tell me where.
An(also prints ok at A3) which looks like this:
A Royal Society Te Apārangi event in June 2021:I used at He Pito Mata, a