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2.1.3 Transdisciplinary research context

[I]ssues of sea level rise, integration of marine life, etc. cannot be investigated from the perspective of a single discipline, single time frame or a single scale. It requires a long-term historical and large-scale understanding of the space I’m investigating, which requires different tools and new narratives to synthesise the various complexities and entanglements my research involves.


Kate Orff, Scape Studio Toward an Urban Ecology
(Orff, 2016, p.15).

[85] However, what may be missing in this research in a transdisciplinary context are the disciplines of anthropology and psychology in understanding how these physical interventions such as Kanten/The Edge competition winning design will be received by humans (and nonhumans – i.e. will the fish like what we built for them?). This however goes beyond the scope of my project and is a research gap for further exploration (see section 1.7 Research scope and limitations and Future research avenues).

[86] However, it is important to note that this research is bound by the limitation as a solo PhD project within an associated disciplinary boundary of LUDP.

[87] The Blue Humanities is an emerging field characterised by disciplinary fluidity between humanities with environmental studies, oceanography, marine biology/ecology, maritime history, science studies, and more (Gillis, 2013).

[88] Today there is no consensus on the definition of and the difference between interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary contributions (Lawrence, 2010). However, according to Lawrence (2010), the main difference between the two is that while interdisciplinary research integrates knowledge and methods from different disciplines, using a synthesis of approaches, transdisciplinary research creates a unity of frameworks beyond the disciplinary perspectives.



There is a growing recognition that new inter and transdisciplinary approaches are needed to bring holistic and innovative thinking by connecting different specialisations of knowledge and practice (Toomey et al., 2015; Orff, 2016). This is particularly relevant when dealing with the challenges of sustainable development, which requires inter and transdisciplinary collaboration between various specialists in the natural and social sciences (Sillitoe 2004; Farrell 2011). Furthermore, issues concerning ocean management and design thinking currently play almost no role (Gang et al., 2016), creating a gap in research for the potential of design research. Working with marine ecosystems such as seaweed inevitably directs the research to a trans-disciplinary[85] path that requires the integration of ecology/biology with the LUDP disciplines. Thus, this research attempts to synthesise various analytical and theoretical frameworks and professional practices beyond their disciplinary perspectives to a transdisciplinary context. For instance, ecosystem service (see section 1.5.2) is an established framework used frequently by biologists. This was used in this project to broadly address the various benefits of seaweed to build a case for their integration into the urban shorelines. Furthermore, to build a narrative for the critical and ethical proposition of Urban Seascaping[86]  to “think with” and to “co-exist with” nonhuman life forms (see section 3.3), the project drew inspiration from the emerging field of blue humanities[87].

     Additionally,  dealing with sea-level rise and storm surge issues requires integrating knowledge from coastal hydrology (engineering) and dealing with water quality influenced by the watersheds (catchment area) and the influence of topobathy, which requires an understanding of geography. Finally, an understanding of economics, politics, building systems, planning laws and urban forms is required to work in the municipal context of Vejle, which is responsible for making informed decisions about the development of the coastal areas. Therefore, inter-and trans-disciplinary[88] approaches are important for understanding “a process wherein people develop a critical awareness through collective inquiry, reflection, and action on the economic, political, and social contradictions they are embedded in” (Torre, 2014, p.3). This collective inquiry, reflection and action were particularly relevant to my research, especially given the Kanten/The Edge design competition, which already constituted a transdisciplinary collaboration. (refer to section 2.1.3 and Appendix 11). Ultimately, the project proposes that methodologically speaking, in order for coastal cities to reach a more sustainable transition to coastal development in the Anthropocene, integrating and synthesising different disciplinary knowledge needs to be realised in novel sub-fields such as “marine landscape architecture” (proposed by Sørensen (2020)) and “blue urbanism” by Timothy Beatley (2014) (see section 3.2.1).

     Nevertheless, there are challenges associated with inter-and trans-disciplinary research. First, it requires more time and effort for the researcher to establish a base knowledge of other disciplines. Moreover, trans-disciplinary research becomes a more trust-based collaboration. That is, I have to place “trust” in the information from other experts as I have a limited understanding of the other subject field. In my case, it has been with the information I received from marine biologists.

    The aim of inter- and transdisciplinary research for this PhD is to contribute knowledge that can have broad implications. As such, according to Toomey et al. (2015), the main aim of inter (trans) disciplinary research is to contribute to either/or both practical and theoretical knowledge. Practical knowledge starts “with a real-world question and uses different disciplinary ideas and methods not just as guideposts, but rather as tools to provide a solution for society” (Toomey et al., 2015, p.1). Theoretical knowledge links principles from different disciplines to form a more comprehensive theory. Therefore, the intention of Urban Seascaping as a research contribution is to serve as a theoretical approach to guide a practical strategy for coastal cities to integrate marine life forms as part of urban development. 


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