Transdisciplinarity and Sustainability

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During the week starting 11 April 2005, the Sustainability Institute, the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, the School of Public Management and Planning and the National Research Foundation co-hosted a seminar on transdisciplinarity and sustainability. The invited guests were Professor Manfred Max-Neef from Chile, and Professor Basarab Nicolescu from France.

The former is a development economist and the latter a quantum physicist, and both have written on the subject of transdisciplinarity. Professor Nicolescu, in particular, has authored the well known Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity and is a major mover on the world-wide stage of the new but rapidly growing movement that is sweeping across the natural and social sciences. Others that attended included senior professors and academics from most of South Africa’s leading Universities. They included people from the natural and applied natural sciences, as well as from most of the key social science disciplines. The seminar was opened by the Rector of Stellenbosch University who is himself a well known academic in the transdisciplinary field having done his second Phd in Inter-Disciplinary Studies at what is now the University of Johannesburg. He gave an inspiring opening talk in response to his reading of Nicolescu’s work which provided an intellectual framework for the transformation of Stellenbosch University in an era of global intellectual ferment. His critique of the ‘golden mean’ as the intellectual basis for compromise rather than progress via critical analysis and action was a theme that constantly reappeared throughout the seminar.

The seminar concluded that much was to be gained from a process that allowed people to explore without fear the limits of their knowledge in order to find ways of collaborating across disciplines to generate the knowledge that is needed to face the great sustainability challenges of the day. Further meetings are planned. A key product is that the Sustainability Institute and the School of Public Management and Planning plan to formulate a new D.Phil in Transdisciplinary Studies which will be the first of it’s kind in the world. The key outlines of this new programme will be unveiled by the Rector at the Second World Congress on Transdisciplinarity in Brazil which will be attended by Eve Annecke from the Sustainability Institute, the Rector of the University, and Professors Mark Swilling and Fanie Cloete from the School of Public Management and Planning.