Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Susanne Baer

Science, Inter-/Transdisciplinarity

On this site you can find....

..information and links on inter- and transdisciplinarity.

Inter- and transdisciplinarity are frequently used keywords when it comes to discussions on innovative trends in research. During the last years a number of inter- and transdisciplinary working institutes and centres have been opened. Primarily, work consists of dialogues among different academic disciplines. Interdisciplinarity is understood as cooperation and sometimes interaction between disciplines, whereas transdisciplinarity emphasizes the accompanying transformation of the disciplines who undergo such interaction, and highlights resulting critical reflection upon science as such.

A good example for transdisciplinarity are Gender Studies at Humboldt-University: Through dialogue between researchers and students of different disciplines, new ideas and approaches are developed developed, and the critical reflection on one´s own approach, methods and statements is part of that. Briefly stated: interdisciplinary work aims at added knowledge, while transdisciplinary work aims at different knowledge. This implies to overcome thematic and methodological boundaries of one´s own discipline, but remain aware of one´s own disciplinary position and strength. To do such work, one needs the ability and willingness of (self)critical reflection upon potentials and boundaries of disciplines, their historical development and cultural embeddedness. Disciplines are valued as places of orientation, identification and resources, but however are also understood as constantly changing and subject to critique.

In legal studies, there are intensive discussions on the value and possibilities of inter- and transdisciplinary work. Interdisciplinary work has been primarily practised in the field of sociology of law, political studies in law, and some versions of legal theory and philosophy. Transdisciplinary aspects may be observed in comparative constitutionalism and in different critical legal theories, including gender studies on law, „critical race studies“, postcolonial studies, „queer theory“ or „disability studies“.

In legal practice, it is often necessary (yet an underdeveloped field) to judge questions of inter- and transdisciplinary nature. For example,

  • to understand anti-discrimination law, you also need to understand discrimination, which is studied in social sciences, history, religious studies, psychology, economics etc.

  • to understand family law and the law of adult relationships, traditionally marriage, you need to understand what families and relationships are and mean today, and how legal frameworks of such relationships have formed over time, and how law affects family life, including the recognition that family is not a private sphere and „unregulated“, while the public is „regulated“, but a highly regulated, yet patriarchal entity. In marriage, you need to understand the dimensions of relationships which include domestic violence, primarily by men against women and children, which has been declared “private” and unregulated, within the regulated area of marriage, at the expense of victims who lacked access to protective measures now available under domestic violence laws.

Inter- and transdisciplinary work is loaded with difficulties and limitations, be they personal or institutional. Traditions and preconceptions are strong enemies. It takes specific abilities to overcome these, and prepare for a look at problems which cannot be confined to one discipline alone.