Transdisciplinary or interdisciplinary academic work is challenging even for established researchers. While they seem to point to a similar process, that of working across or between traditional disciplines, there is enough commentary to suggest that they are also quite different from philosophical and methodological perspectives. They don’t easily conflate in the views of those involved, although I am sure that from the perspectives of those in traditional disciplines they may as well be synonyms. Kimala Price reviews the challenges for and to intellectual work that engages more than one traditional discipline, eventually opting to describe herself as an intellectual hybrid.
Hybridity as a concept in cultural theory gained most prominence through the work of Edward Said and Homi Bhaba in postcolonial theory, and this is where I encountered it first. He used it to refer to the experience of liminality associated with colonial identities, where the experience of colonisation inevitably changes the cultural identities of colonised peoples and, over time, also those of the colonisers. The hybrid is the progeny of the originating cultures but it is also no longer the same. The hybrid is inevitably changed and an outsider to its progenitors as much as it inherits parts of its identity from them. It invokes the notion of liminality to explore points of contact and blending at border territory as well as that sense of ‘in between-ness’ of being neither solely this or that. These ideas have been taken up in mostly the academic setting (hardly surprising – both Said and Bhaba are challenging reads even for seasoned scholars), including discussion and reflection on interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary work.
I am currently working on sample design. The results of this look simple when they’re constructed but getting into the process has been enlightening. Intellectually I know that it takes a lot of thinking work to consider and plan how to get the data you need to answer your research questions. I was still surprised with how much thinky time it has taken to come up with a draft that sets out in writing a plan that someone else can look at and understand how I plan to get my data. Deciding on key criteria and how they relate to each other is intricate. I have added some further intricacies by the methodological decisions I’ve made in my study design. I am working across disciplines and across methodologies in a way that can probably be described best as hybrid. My broader methodological focus is discourse analysis, and within that my plan includes theoretical and iterative sampling with concurrent analysis that would be more familiar to grounded theory. Working up a sample design and matrix has required that I get to grips with the idea of planning an initial sample (important!) and being able to say that subsequent sampling will be theoretical and I can’t describe it at the moment because I don’t know what the emerging categories from my initial sample will be. Well, I could guess and I do have some guesses on paper.
Realistically, I also know that one of the things about plans in research is that they change. This doesn’t negate or diminish the importance of planning, but it is equally important to remember that these are not colours nailed to the mast. While it is not an easy option, I am enjoying the intellectual challenge of creating a hybrid methodology and methods for my project. It may make me want to leave imprints of my forehead on the wall at times as I work out how to articulate and communicate what I am doing, how I am doing it, and what I will be able to say as a result. There is also a thrill in composing something out of things that you can see might fit or weave together to do a new thing.