The Nature of Transdisciplinarity

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This chapter describes the approach taken in regard to research methodology in this study. It aims to provide a full description of the type of research, the sample, the methods of data collection and analysis and the manner in which the main themes were identified and conclusions drawn. It also positions the research within the numerous debates on qualitative research methodology

The Research Paradigm

The methodology is qualitative involving a three-pronged approach. It involves the observation of Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs in business schools, supported by interviews with lecturers and deans, and the scrutiny of curriculum documentation. The ontological nature of the study, being the study of the postmodern context and its realities for leadership is according to Lee (1999) something that distinguishes it as qualitative research. The subjective involvement of the researcher as an academic herself, who has strong feelings regarding the quality of the development of leaders, is also typical of a qualitative approach. The researcher is not an objective observer having control over all influential variables, such as is the case in quantitative research. This research relies on an inductive approach, multivariate and multiprocess interactions and context specific methods, as outlined by Lee (ibid) as being typical of the qualitative method. The analysis utilizes an inductive approach. Leedy and Ormrod (2005, p.32) describe inductive reasoning process as beginning with an observation which is then explored through the research. The researcher began this process of enquiry with a question regarding the lack of synergy between teaching/learning methods in the MBA classroom, and the nature of the context in which the students, in this case emerging leaders, would work and lead. In line with the work of Cassel and Symon (1994) who differentiate between quantitative and qualitative research, this research falls into the qualitative category by being a subjective exploration by the researcher of an organizational phenomena, that is, leadership development, that is more focused on understanding the quality of the leadership development process, rather than on predicting outcomes. Cassell and Symon (2004) who focus on qualitative research in the work context, argue that qualitative processes and research adopting alternative epistemological perspectives, hold out the promise of new insights They do this by adopting a critical stance on accepted practices and by approaching research topics with different objectives. In the world of quantitative research the objective, value free environment is the holy grail. The value systems in business schools however, are endemic to the choices made in regard to the strategy of the business school and what is, and what is not incorporated into learning curriculums. The subjective views of the lecturers and deans were important in the manner in which they influenced the learning methodologies applied in the school. Denzin and Lincoln (2006) reject the preoccupation of quantitative science with objectivity, saying that it ignores the richness of subjective experience which is so important to understanding phenomena in a complex, social context. These authors argue than in pursuit of a purely objective science, quantitative researchers ignore morality and politics, which are fundamental in social science. It would not have been possible to conduct this research in the quantitative paradigm, given the important influence of subjective elements such as ethics, values and political paradigms. Holloway and Wheeler (1996) refer to qualitative research as being “holistic, emic, contextualized, interpretive and immersed.” This statement reflects the subjective characteristics of qualitative research. This notion is borne out by Munhall (2001) who states that qualitative research is, among other things, focused on the human experience. Munhall expands by stating that in qualitative research there is normally a high level of researcher involvement and the production of “descriptive and/or narrative data”. The researcher in this study was immersed in the culture of the MBA classroom, and being an MBA lecturer herself, was not able to separate herself from her own preconceived views and become an entirely cultural neutral, objective researcher. The manner in which the researcher managed this subjective position, it explained later in this thesis, in the section on “The Credibility of the Researcher”.
Any research study will naturally make assumptions about the nature of social science and reality. The labile nature of the postmodern context, necessitates an approach which is antithetical to the objective, positivistic, deterministic epistemology that pursues rigid truths.
This research will naturally gravitate to reflect an epistemology on the subjective extreme of the Burrell and Morgan (1979) model. Here the nominalist position allows for an epistemology that reflects the fluid nature of the postmodern world. The nominalist, according to these theorists, denies the existence of a worldly structure that is immutable. This research is firmly placed in the anti-positivistic dimension as it is not concerned with the search for incontrovertible laws, but rather it explores a learning methodology that might be compatible with the postmodern context. The researcher does not attempt to generate an objective knowledge of the nature of business leadership development in the postmodern world (Burrell and Morgan, 1979, p.23) rather seeks to understand the changeable nature of the postmodern era and how this influences the way we develop leaders who operate in that context. Burrell and Morgan discuss the voluntarism-determinism debate in terms of human nature and this research will view individuals as being autonomous and free-willed however, an issue that has emerged within the challenges of postmodernism, and which is not accounted for in the Burrell and Morgan (ibid) model, is that of sustainability on all levels of society. The threats to the sustainability of the global environment have resulted in areas of responsibility which curtail the autonomy of postmodern leaders, as they are challenged with their own role in responding to these sustainability threats worldwide. The emergence of notions such as ethics, business ethics, corporate and social responsibility are evidence of the forces of sustainability that leaders will need to embrace, and which will place limits on their autonomy. Thus, in terms of the Burrell and Morgan model and the concept of individual free-will and autonomy, this needs to be viewed against the sustainability challenge. In its antithetical stance, this research falls within the ideographic paradigm however, another limitation of the Burrell and Morgan model is noted in that it describes the nature of ideographic research as being focused on obtaining a full understanding of the situation or context that is the focus of study. However, what is inherent in postmodern situations is their lability, their constantly changing nature, and therefore it may not be possible to do any more than describe or understand the context of leadership development within a given temporal context within which the work takes place. The Burrell and Morgan model is therefore somewhat limited in relation to research in the postmodern context as it fails to take into account this notion of change that is so constant and consistent, that it contradicts the notion of generating an understanding of a particular situation, which would demonstrate a validity that would remain constant over time.
Burrell and Morgan (ibid) extend their thinking in this book through other more enlightened theories of society by putting forward a discussion on a sociological model which sees “regulation” and “radical change” as two points on the end of a continuum. This model is considered to be enlightened since the article was written in the late 1970‟s and the thinking was certainly ahead of its time in anticipating, on the radical change side of the model, the complexity and ambiguity of the 21st century. These authors have a predisposition for clearly delineating and classifying the nature of society however, and as scientists who are generating knowledge on this topic, they value the rigorous and systematic treatment of their topic. However, it could be argued that the turbulent and unpredictable nature of the postmodern context would not sit comfortably within stable classificatory models. The theme running through the Burrell and Morgan (ibid) article, with its clear preference for looking at the nature of society as being an interaction between two opposing realities, for example regulation and radical change, may also run the risk of oversimplifying the nature of reality. The authors do not give sufficient discussion to the detail in the model, for a further critique to be undertaken. Suffice it to say that the sociology of radical change is a typology which is most compatible with the postmodern context, within with this research takes place.
A more recent discourse on the political nature of qualitative research is offered by Denzin and Lincoln (2006). Their description of the post-pragmatist viewpoint is one that offers a description of qualitative research that has synergies with this research. These authors describe the nature of the post-pragmatist as some-one who :
acts as a moral agent, one whose political goal is the creation of greater individual freedom in the broader social order. (Denzin and Lincoln, 2006, p. 776).
They also argue that the pragmatists asks :
What are the moral and ethical consequences of these effects for lived human experience? Do they contribute to an ethical self-consciousness that is critical and reflexive, empowering people with a language and a set of pedagogical practices that turn oppression into freedom, despair into hope, hatred into love, and doubt into trust? Do they engender a critical racial self-awareness that contributes to utopian dreams of racial equality and racial justice? If people are being oppressed, denied freedom or dying because of these effects, then the action, of course is morally indefensible. (Denzin and Lincoln, 2006, p.777).
The element of this research that questions the manner in which business school philosophy underpins and sustains a capitalistic socio-political paradigm is in effect, the researcher taking up the role of a moral agent in questioning the way in which this approach encroaches on individual freedom and compromises transformation, not only in andragogy, but in the potential for business schools to support social growth and development involving paradigms of thought that may be more appropriate in a free and fair social order.
Jain and Golosinksi (2009, p. 104) are skeptical of the limitations of research methods arguing that science is often good at finding what it is looking for but that this occurs at the cost of excluding some of the complexity and nuance of the world through the application of “methodological filters”.
This research conforms primarily to the characteristics of qualitative research outlined by Peshkin (1993). Peshkin (ibid) states that qualitative research studies typically serve one or more of the following purposes :
Description : They reveal the nature of certain situations, settings, processes, relationships, systems or people. In this research I explore the nature of leadership development in MBA programs.
Interpretation : They enable a researcher to gain new insights into a particular phenomenon. In this case the researcher attempts to gain new insights into the quality of leadership development in relation to the demands of leadership in a postmodern context
Verification : They allow a researcher to test the validity of assumptions, claims, theories and generalizations in a real world context. In this research the assumptions that academics make about how they should go about developing leaders are examined and tested against extant theory relating to the challenges of leadership in a postmodern context
Evaluation : This is where the researcher looks for a means to judge the effectiveness of a particular phenomenon and in this instance that is the effectiveness of leadership development in MBA programs, in terms of how adequately they prepare leaders for coping with postmodern challenges. This research has commonalities with that conducted by De Dea Roglio and Light (2009) where there are subjective undertones to the data. The data collected represents the subjective views of lecturers and deans in the various schools in the sample. In addition to the above this research examines the nature of transdisciplinary learning and whether it can add value to the development of leaders in a postmodern context.
The recommendations of Pratt (2009, p.857) regarding the writing of a compelling and focused account in qualitative research have been taken into account in this research design. These conditions are as follows :
An account that :
Honors the worldview of informants,
Provides sufficient evidence for claims,
Significantly contributes to extant theory
The researcher has attempted to satisfy the above three conditions as far as is realistically possible in the manner in which the thesis has been written

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Unit of Analysis

The choice of the MBA program, and more specifically the lecturers on the program, as a unit of analysis is based on the fact that MBA programs have traditionally been the means for developing generations of business leaders. The significance of the choice of an MBA as a means for developing leadership qualities is evident in the fact that in 2005 it was estimated that there were over 50 000 MBA students studying at business schools in Europe, which is considered to be a growing market (Petersen, 2008 ). In the United States however, 250 000 graduates are being produced annually (Petersen, ibid). Coherent numbers in South Africa are difficult to locate. As a guideline, an article in MBACOZA estimated that over 4000 MBA students enroll at local business schools every year in South Africa however, a Council for Higher Education Report stated that 7303 students enrolled for an MBA in 2002. It would appear, from these figures, that the MBA is a popular choice for individuals wanting to develop their management and leadership skills and to rise to senior positions in organizations worldwide.
In a study undertaken by Rubin and Dierdorff (2009) only 28% of graduates reported that they did not enter into a management or leadership position on graduation. They cite similar studies by GMAC (2004) which indicated that employers stated that between 68 and 91% of MBA graduates are placed into middle or senior management positions. This data appears to support the utilization of MBA graduates as potential leaders in organizations, after graduation

Research Objectives

The purpose of this research is to examine the potential of a transdisciplinary approach to leadership development, as it occurs in MBA programs, as an effective andragogy for assisting developing leaders to be effective in a postmodern context. It provides a critical analysis of the silo‟d nature of the disciplinary approach, currently characteristic of university structures. Traditionally universities and business schools approach leadership development utilising a discipline-based approach. MBA programs are structured around functional modules which align to a specific discipline, for example finance, leadership, marketing, operations and human resource modules. These are taught separately and seldom are the various modules integrated as they are in the real world. This disciplinary approach stands in stark contrast to the complexity, unpredictability and ambiguity present in the postmodern world. The postmodern context is characterised by more questions than solutions and a need to integrate disciplines in order to deliberate the solutions to complex problems through a process of mutual knowledge generation. The word “transdisciplinary” reflects the notion of knowledge generation applicable to a specific context, in this case the context of postmodern leadership challenges.
Specific objectives of this research were :
To gain an understanding of the prevailing types of learning methodologies that were being applied in MBA classrooms.
To discover whether there were any examples of transdisciplinary learning being applied.
To elicit information regarding the nature of the postmodern business world.
To juxtapose prevailing learning methodologies with the conditions faced by the postmodern leader and to survey the synergies or lack thereof, between learning methodologies and the postmodern leadership context.
To elicit information on the challenges facing lecturers and deans in business schools and particularly in the MBA program, in order to determine whether a transdisciplinary learning methodology would assist in finding solutions to these challenges
To examine, through the secondary research, the notion of transdisciplinarity and whether it held value as a learning methodology for the development of postmodern leaders, in the MBA classroom.
In achieving these objectives, the researcher was able to determine whether current MBA teaching methodologies were appropriate in relation to the business environment in which emerging leaders would operate, and whether a transdisciplinary approach had value to add in this context

Research Problem

Discipline based learning does not adequately equip developing leaders for dealing with the challenges of a complex, unpredictable postmodern world. Universities and business schools need a leadership development andragogy that is analogous and synergistic with the nature of the world in which the student operates as a leader. Thus the learning methodology needs to embrace the complex, unpredictable and ambiguous nature of that world. It is posited that a transdisciplinary andragogy has the potential to add value to this process

The Theoretical Paradigm

The theoretical paradigms that have compatibility with transdisciplinarity are those of critical management theory, postmodernism, constructivism and particularly social constructivism. Social constructivism refers to communities of practice which Brown (2006) says are evolving and starting to play a significant role in learning environments. These communities of practice are reminiscent of group learning where students are grouped together to solve problems in the process of engaging with a learning experience. These communities of practice have synergies with transdisciplinarity in that the power dynamic is equalized and the teacher and the taught are equal in term of their role in the group. Johannessen and Olaisen (2006) speak of ontological constructivism which sees the distinction between social facts and constructs as irrelevant. Thus, in the context of this research, the need for leadership development is a fact and the nature of that development is a social construction, but the fact and the construction, in this view of research, become one and the same. The research paradigm is an anti-naturalist paradigm. The naturalist approach is that of understanding and prediction, which is not the objective of this research. The anti-naturalist paradigm speaks of “the interpretation of meaning or of hermeneutic understanding”, (Martin and McIntyre, 1994). The anti-naturalist paradigm is aligned with systemic thinking and cybernetics, which has synergies with the nature of the postmodern context. Hermeneutics occupies itself with the inner reality of the individual, it does not concern itself with social structures, according to Dilthey (1976). It is this “inner reality” of the developing leader that is liberated in a transdisciplinary learning methodology. The research is phenomenological in that it is based on observation and introspection, but does not occupy itself with testing (Johannessen, 2005).
It is proposed that in the context of this research the links between postmodernism, critical management theory, complexity theory, social constructivism and transdisciplinary are that postmodernism provides the context, complexity theory the empirical platform, social constructivism the research paradigm and transdisciplinarity emerges as a methodology that sits well within these parameters. This approach is in concert with the emergence of critical management studies which adopt a critical or questioning approach to traditional concerns of management studies (Grey and Willmott, 2005). It is noted that critical theory and postmodernism are empirical paradigms, with strong synergies with this research. These two schools of thought display much convergence in thinking, however there are significant points of divergence. These are pointed out in the literature review where the role of critical theory and postmodernism in leadership development is dealt with in more detail. It is not the purpose of this research to delve into a detailed enquiry about the nature of critical theory and postmodernism, but some discourse into the distinctions between the two is considered necessary. This research will focus on the synergies between these two themes and much of the discourse on transdisciplinarity that will follow, will reflect the thinking of these two paradigms of thought. Alvesson and Deetz (1996) offer a detailed look at critical theory and postmodernism and provide examples of research approaches emanating from critical theory and postmodernism. They note that most of these have a qualitative focus, an interpretive orientation to data, and a research objective that focuses on a critique of the status quo. They also note that these theorists have previously tended to focus on the dark side of 21st century challenges, and targeted issues relating to the negative byproducts of organizations such as environmental destruction, sexual harassment, corporate crimes and racial discrimination. The researcher notes the strong social flavor of the targets of research in these two paradigms which is consistent with the postmodern and critical theorists paradigms, but also with social constructivism

1.1 Preamble
1.2 The Research Question
1.3 The Research Paradigm
1.4 Delimitations
1.5 Definition of Terms
1.6 Contribution and Significance of the Research
1.7 Structure of the Thesis
2.1 Introduction to Transdisciplinarity Within the Postmodern Context
2.2 A Modern Day Example of Postmodern Complexity
2.3 The Nature of Transdisciplinarity
2.4 The Application of Transdisciplinarity
2.5 Postmodern Theories Compatible with Transdisciplinarity
2.6 Critique of current methodologies for leadership development
2.7 The Implementation of a Radical Postmodern Andragogy
2.8 Transdisciplinarity and Leadership Development
3.1 Introduction
3.2 The Research Paradigm
3.3 Unit of Analysis
3.4 Research Objectives
3.5 Research Problem
3.6 The Theoretical Paradigm
3.7 Methods of Inquiry
3.8 Sample
3.9 Procedures
3.10 Approach to Data Analysis
3.11 Presentation and Writing Up
3.12 Credibility, Transferability, Dependability and Confirmability
3.13 Limitations to the Research
3.14 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Interviews
4.3 Responses to Lecturer Interviews
4.4 Responses to Dean Interviews
4.5 Issues Emerging from the Interview Process
4.6 Class Observations
4.7 Curriculum Documentation
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Main Themes in the Research
5.3 Emerging Issues
5.4 The Potential Contribution to be made to Leadership Development in the Postmodern Era, by the application of a transdisciplinary methodology
6.1 Conclusions
6.2 Recommendations
6.3 Recommendations for Future Research

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