Researching Real-World Problems: The Value of Dismantling Disciplinary Discourse
The tendency for social science research to fall, explicitly or implicitly, under disciplinary or paradigmatic boundaries can mean that real-world complexity is ignored, thereby limiting the potential for holistic understanding and sustainable outcomes. What might appear on the surface to be a straightforward economic, social, cultural, environmental, or political issue invariably masks a multifaceted problem that is nested in the chaos of a lived environment. Drawing on a range of case studies, this paper argues that such complexity obliges researchers to explore a multitude of social, biophysical and even social-psychological parameters that transcend traditional boundaries. Real-world complexity requires both researchers (and research designs) to be extremely flexible; researchers need to be willing to respond to the yet to be foreseen. They must also be confident to engage in multiple methods that are likely to be drawn from varied and sometimes conflicting research traditions. Other challenges include being comfortable with the possibility of not being able to account for all variables; managing researcher subjectivities; and developing empathetic understanding of a range of stakeholders that may not all be part of the academic research world. This paper explores these challenges with the aim of working towards social science research that is realistic, practical, and of the highest utility.
Keywords: Transdisciplinarity, Research, Inquiry, Epistemology, Complexity
Dr. Zina O'Leary
Senior Lecturer, School of Natural Sciences, University of Western Sydney