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Vol. 16, No. 2
ISSN: 1546-2676

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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM, Vol. 16, No. 2. 
1546-2676. Editor: Dorothy I. Mitstifer. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member, Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 2009. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

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Historical Notions of Transdisciplinarity in Home Economics1

Sue L.T. McGregor
Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax Nova Scotia

Key words: transdisciplinary, interdisciplinarity, Marjorie Brown, Kocklemans, Jantsch, home economics, higher education

Acknowledgments - I am deeply impressed with the Guest Editor’s (Anne MacCleave) due diligence and meticulous attention to philosophical and theoretical nuances.


Transdisciplinarity offers an extension and enrichment of already existing traditions in the home economics discipline and profession. This article provides an overview of historical conceptualizations of home economics as transdisciplinary, featuring Christine. E. J. Daniels (Welsh) and Marjorie M. Brown (American). The paper reveals that as the concept of transdisciplinarity has evolved, so too have home economists’ interpretations of transdisciplinary-informed practice. Home economics can continue to benefit from evolving notions of transdisciplinarity.

The problems of the world are so complex that no single discipline is capable of solving them alone. The need to be able to conduct research across disciplines is a pressing need of the 21st century. To that end, this special issue of KON FORUM is about researching across disciplines. Birkoff (2006) explained that a discipline emerges when boundaries are drawn around a field (a loose-knit collection of interests) to create a branch of knowledge reflecting a particular area of study (e.g., home economics emerged as a discipline at the turn of 20th century). Furthermore, home economics has long portrayed itself as interdisciplinary, understood to involve two or more disciplines coordinating their efforts to integrate ideas into new and encompassing patterns and synergies.

During the past 50 years, several attempts were made within higher education to categorize different approaches to scholarship within and across disciplinary boundaries, with the most common five terms being: multi, pluri, cross, inter, and transdisciplinarity (Apostel, Berger, Briggs & Machaud, 1972; Jantsch, 1972a,b; Kocklemans, 1979b). Their respective conceptualizations of all five terms were similar yet different (see Table 1).

Table 1 Comparison of three seminal initiatives to categorize disciplinary approaches


OECD (Apostel et al., 1972)

Jantsch (1972a,b)

Kocklemans (1979b)


juxtaposition of various disciplines sometimes with no apparent connection among them

a simultaneous variety of disciplines with no explication of relationships among them, and no coordination

each individual acquaints him or herself with more than one discipline, although no connections are made among the disciplines 


juxtaposition of disciplines assumed to be more or less related (connected)

hierarchal juxtaposition of various disciplines grouped in such a way as to enhance relationships among them

competence in one discipline presupposes competence or a thorough knowledge in other disciplines


not identified by OECD

the axiomatics (established rules, principles and laws) of one discipline are imposed upon other disciplines, creating a rigid polarization across the disciplines toward a disciplinary axiomatic

one or more scientists employ insights and methods of related disciplines to solve a problem without any attempts to integrate the disciplines themselves


interaction among two or more different disciplines ranging from simple communication of ideas to the mutual integration of organizing concepts, methodology, procedures (methods), epistemology, terminologies, and data leading to an organization of a fairly large field

the definition of common axiomatics for a group of related disciplines such that the disciplines actually change their concepts, structures and aims

one or more scientists solve sets of problems by integrating parts of existing disciplines into new disciplines (the original disciplines do not necessarily become totally integrated)


establishing a common system of axioms for a set of disciplines (inventing an axiomatic approach wherein a common set of axioms prevail, related to but lying beyond traditional disciplines)

the coordination of all disciplines and interdisciplines on the basis of (a) general axiomatics and (b) an emerging epistemological pattern (disciplinary contents, structures and interfaces change continually through coordination)

work done by a group of scientists, each trained in different disciplines, with the intention of systematically pursuing the problem of how to negate the side effects of specialization, thereby making research more socially relevant; the aims are to develop an all-encompassing theoretical framework and/or the unity of our world view


Home economics has always espoused an interdisciplinary approach (Brown, 1993). Although the term interdisciplinary has its roots in Greek philosophy (Klein, 1996), the term transdisciplinarity first appeared in academic texts in the early 1970s (Schneider, 2003). It was conceived as a form of disciplinarity at a seminar hosted in Nice, France by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (Apostel et al., 1972). Jantsch (1972a, b) further elaborated upon this idea by developing a transdisciplinary schema for redesigning the university system (higher education) using the concept of an integral education/innovation system (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Comparison of approaches to trandisciplinarity by Jantsch and Kocklemans

Kocklemans (1979b) is another contributor to our understanding of transdisciplinarity.  He tendered a new taxonomy of definitions for approaches to disciplinary work, including transdisciplinarity, in a seminal work titled Interdisciplinarity and Higher Education. He envisioned transdisciplinary as an overarching theoretical framework that academics can use in search of meaning via a unified world view. Furthermore, he viewed it as an approach for overcoming hyper specialization so that research and education could be more socially relevant (see Figure 1).

For over a century, home economics has portrayed itself as both multi- and inter- disciplinary (Brown, 1993). Recognizing that transdisciplinarity is a relatively new concept for all disciplines, this paper focuses on the less frequently advocated idea of transdisciplinarity in home economics. In 1980, Daniels reported that “no record of home economics as a trans-disciplinary structure has been found” (p. 329). Brown (1993) asserted that “few authors have specifically considered the implications of transdisciplinarity for the mode(s) of inquiry in human ecology” (p. 335). A 2010 review of the international home economics literature undertaken for this paper revealed only three home economics scholars who have written, or are writing, about transdisciplinarity and home economics. Sue McGregor (from Canada) is currently an advocate for a transdisciplinary approach for home economics. For reasons to be explained shortly, this paper focuses on the historical contributions of both Christine. E. J. Daniels (from Wales), in the early 1980s, and Marjorie M. Brown (from the United States), in the early 1990s.

C. E. J. Daniels and Transdisciplinary Home Economics

In 1980, Daniels became the first home economist to conceptualize home economics as transdisciplinary. She drew on the OECD classification scheme, especially the chapter by Jantsch (1972b). In keeping with the intellectual innovations of the time, which conceived transdisciplinarity as a way to organize higher education, she proposed that transdisciplinarity offered the most appropriate name for the organizational structure of home economics in higher education. Daniels ruled out multi- and inter-disciplinarity, arguing that the term interdisciplinarity simply did not provide the degree of system sophistication needed to represent home economics in higher education; transdisciplinarity did provide this quality. Likely due to the proximity of the intellectual idea (France), she drew on OECD’s notion of transdisciplinarity (Jantsch, 1972b) rather than Kocklemans’ (1979b) North American work. Kocklemans’ work was associated with the Brown and Paolucci (1979) mission initiative in the American home economics context (see Kocklemans, 1979a).

For clarification, when Daniels (1980) published her paper, home economics in the United Kingdom was trying to situate itself as an academic discipline in the higher education system (it was already well established in North America). For that reason, Jantsch’s (1972b) notion of how to structure university systems was very appealing to her. Jantsch’s (1972a,b) schema comprised a tri-level education-innovation system that moved from the empirical level of the physical world to the pragmatic, the normative and finally, the purposive level. Daniels used Jantsch’s (1972b) transdisciplinary approach to university structures to conceptualize higher education degree programs in home economics and the resultant contributions home economics could make to society.

Using a triangle as a graphic for the transdisciplinary tri-level higher education system, Jantsch (1972b) proposed that the base constituted the units (usually departments) where students would learn about fundamental background knowledge germane to their field of study (knowing why through clarification of the logic, principles, and concepts). Daniels (1980) conceived these as other disciplines from which home economics draws its interdisciplinary background. The middle layer dealt with departments or units that are focused on innovations and developments, called function-oriented units (knowing what knowledge is needed). Daniels envisioned these as specialized home economics units, likely departments (e.g., food, housing, clothing, textiles, design, family life). The apex of the triangle represented units (not necessarily departments) tasked with the primary role of knowing where to go to apply knowledge to improve and develop society (i.e., public policy planning and development of sociotechnological structures). For Daniels, the apex represented career paths and service opportunities for home economists. There is a reciprocal relationship among all three system levels (see Figure 2, adapted from Daniels, 1980).

Figure 2 – Transdisciplianry approach for a tri-level higher education system, adapted  from Jantsch and Daniels

Finally, instead of referencing a mission statement for home economics, like that developed by Brown and Paolucci (1979) and critiqued by Kocklemans (1979a), Daniels (1980) used the phrase “a common sense system purpose,” and identified this “system purpose” as “improving the quality of life for people within the areas of home, family and immediate environment” (p. 331).

Marjorie M. Brown and Transdisciplinary Home Economics

Over a decade later, on the other side of the Atlantic, Brown (1993) wrote about transdisciplinarity and home economics. Although both Jantsch (1972b) and Kocklemans’ (1979b) conceptualizations of transdisciplinarity were available to her (as was Daniels’ 1980 article in the Journal of Consumer Studies and Home Economics), Brown (1993) focused entirely on Kocklemans’ (1979b) approach. “I have drawn largely upon the work of Kocklemans for the meaning of ‘transdisciplinarity’” (p. 560). This decision lead to a very different understanding of transdisciplinarity and home economics compared to that offered by Daniels (1980) (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Brown’s approach to transdisciplinarity and home economics

As fate or design would have it, Kocklemans (1979a) prepared a 33-page response to Brown and Paolucci’s (1979) monograph, Home Economics: A Definition. He set out his understandings of both inter- and transdisciplinarity as they related to home economics. Brown (1993) took up Kocklemans’ implied challenge for home economics to consider transdisciplinarity. Per Kocklemans’ conceptualization, she discussed transdisciplinarity as: (a) an overarching conceptual framework and (b) a context for the unity of world views. 

Transdisciplinarity as an Overarching Conceptual Framework

In her 1993 book, Brown included transdisciplinarity as one of the basic ideas by which American home economists could understand themselves. Rich discussions about the place for transdisciplinarity in home economics are interspersed throughout her book. She especially inserted these ideas into two chapters, home economics as interdisciplinary (Chapter 7) and home economics as human ecology (Chapter 8).

In Chapter 7, Brown noted that “transdisciplinary work involves efforts to develop an overarching conceptual framework which provides unity for our civilization’s intellectual accomplishments” (1993, p. 240). This overarching framework would reduce the tensions among the fragmented worlds depicted by different home economics specializations. She maintained that a transdisciplinary approach respects the need for specializations while critically and reflectively bringing them into alignment with the human purpose and a livable world (what it means to be human). The major role of a transdisciplinary approach would be to create a conceptual framework, common ground, within which human problems would be identified and investigated. By using a transdisciplinary framework, interdisciplinarians would be better able to study more relevant social problems than if they remained constricted by narrow disciplinary boundaries and siloed specializations.

Transdisciplinarity as Context for Unity of World Views

In Chapter 8, Brown (1993) portrayed transdisciplinary as an overall framework for the synthesis of knowledge that unites and then transcends the disciplines because it focuses on work in various fields by those concerned with “the human problem” (p.296). She astutely explained that this synthesis must take place in the mind of each participant before a collective synthesis can take place. This inner-synthesis cannot occur if each individual seeks comfort within his or her specialist-trained mind, thereby limiting his or her perspective concerning the human problem. Those engaged in this transdisciplinary process would have to move beyond their narrow views of the world informed by their respective discipline or specialization.

Specialists would have to collectively weave together three images to create a new, coherent picture of human relations with the world, these being an image of: (a) the natural world, (b) society, and (c) people as cultural, biological, adaptive, self-organizing beings (see Brown, 1993, p. 298). This transdisciplinary approach would generate a new paradigmatic picture of the human condition. She believed that this unified picture of knowledge, when employed to solve the problems of humanity, would provide a common ground for dialogue as genuine inquiry, something that is absent when there are too many specializations.

Reframing How Home Economists Understand Problems

Brown (1993) further proposed that transdisciplinarity can be conceived as (a) a context for understanding human problems and (b) a context for appreciating the contributions that various disciplines and modes of inquiry can make into seeking solutions to human problems. She continually referenced real human problems. Like Kocklemans (1979b), she referred to “concrete problems which society presents to its members” (Brown, 1993, p. 241). She identified these problems as: loss of meaning when cultural traditions are disturbed, loss of community, fragmentation of knowledge, and domination of thought and action by technical rationality. These ideas are deeply reflective of Kocklemans’ work (1979b).

Brown further asserted that transdisciplinarity would help home economists “go to the root of human problems ... rather than to treat the manifest symptoms. [This approach] makes us more critically reflective about social realities and their influence on the human condition rather than blindly accepting existing social conditions...” (1993, p. 268). She suggested that instead of describing the condition of humans (their state of well-being), home economists would go further and interpret those conditions using concepts such as justice, equity, fairness, freedom, human rights, human security, resilient communities, participation, power, responsibility, and interests. By assuming that rich transconversations are intended to find opportunities for transformative change, growth, and development, home economists would move from a focus on family problems to those of humanity - a new way to frame problems. Brown explicitly employed a different framing of a transdisciplinary focus for home economics, using such phrases as “real human problems,” “the human community,” “the human purpose,” “the root of human problems,” and “basic human problems” (see, for example, pp. 268-269).

New Forms of Integration (Beyond Specializations)

Brown (1993) posited that while engaged in transdisciplinary work to solve the problems of humanity, home economists would not strive to integrate subject matter; rather, they would strive to integrate purposes, different modes of knowing, different modes of rationality (ways of creating and using knowledge), basic concepts, and the presuppositions of various disciplines (cf. p. 244). To illustrate issues associated with an attempt to integrate distinctly different modes of inquiry (and the attendant struggles and pushback), MacCleave (2005a) shared a hypothetical account of events among members of different disciplines as they worked together (i.e., a clinical nutritionist, an interpretive ethnographer, a grounded theorist, a statistician/measurement specialist, and a poststructuralist feminist). Her hypothetical play is a powerful illustration of the challenging nature of cross-boundary scholarship.

Brown (1993) also discussed research among specialists within the profession (foods, clothing, housing, family, and consumer specialists), arguing that transdisciplinarity is not against specializations because they still need to exist for now. What is needed are practitioners who practice their speciality from a transdisciplinary perspective. She asserted that “the interdisciplinary specialist must also be a generalist in her transdisciplinarity” (p.273). Turkki (2006) tendered a similar idea with her concept of integral specialist. By this, Turkki meant home economists would become specialists with expertise to integrate, link, see connections, look for patterns, coordinate, and communicate across disciplines and with civil society. This approach to practice better enables professionals to facilitate exchanges among disciplinary experts and specialists and with other humans who hold their own understandings of the everyday life (Brown, 1993).

Interdisciplinarity Within a Transdisciplinary Framework

Brown’s (1993) understanding of the place of transdisciplinarity within the discipline and profession of home economics was developed in the early 1990s. She drew on Kocklemans’ (1979a, b) work, which conceived transdisciplinarity as a hyper form of interdisciplinarity. She called for home economists to focus on problems that transcend the disciplines, that focus on the human problem. And to do this, she asked members of the home economics discipline to work with other disciplines and to work with each other across specializations within the profession. In her quest to get the profession to move beyond specializations and compartmentalized thinking, she used terms like “civilization’s intellectual accomplishments” and “unity of our world view” (Brown, 1993, p.240). She charged all scholars to reflect on the contribution of each discipline to man’s [sic] search for meaning, to the human purpose and a livable world.

Brown (1993) maintained that transdisciplinarity would “provide a basis for understanding what disciplines to go to for concepts, theoretical approaches, and modes of rationality appropriate to the particular set of human problems with which the profession is concerned” (p. 268). This statement implies that she saw home economics professionals as problem solvers working within academic disciplines, but not beyond the academy, and not with other societal actors (again mirroring Kocklemans’ (1979b) notion of academy-bound transdisciplinarity).

And, although Brown said that a transdisciplinary framework would include the empirical and interpretative sciences, morality, the arts, religion, and political praxis, she restricted her perception of who should be engaged in these activities to the “entire community of [academic] scholars” (p. 249, cf. p. 248). Furthermore, she referred to the overarching conceptual framework that home economists would use to bring meaning to their work as “the product” of transdisciplinary work (Brown, 1993, p. 268), rather than a process, or an approach to solving the problems of humanity.

Although her ideas represented a powerful innovation in thinking within the profession, she stopped short of conceiving transdisciplinarity beyond the academy, possibly because Kocklemans (1979b) took the same stance. Like Kocklemans (1979b), Brown (1993) called for interdisciplinary work within a transdisciplinary framework (cf. p.241), and for transdisciplinarity for interdisciplinary research and teaching (cf. p.268). She still saw home economics as interdisciplinary but argued that it should do the work within the academy using a transdisciplinary lens for research across disciplinary and specialization boundaries. Constructive criticism notwithstanding, framing home economics as transdisciplinary, informed by Kocklemans’ (1979b) perspective, was a huge innovation at the time (see Figure 3).

Summary - Why Transdisciplinarity for Home Economics

By way of a summary, Brown (1993, pp. 247-250) offered four reasons for the profession to embrace a transdisciplinary approach to practice. First, jointly creating knowledge about how to solve human problems would negate the alienating and dehumanizing effect of using compartmentalized, fragmented, and piecemeal knowledge, which is offered by separate, siloed disciplines that are not in touch with the lived reality of the world’s citizens.

Second, transdisciplinarity provides a way to scaffold the human quest for the unity of knowledge by focusing on the wholeness of the human family instead of individuals or specific family units or family types. This approach helps people better understand the world, the contemporary human situation, and the meaning of human life (Brown, 1993).

Third, the real social problems that humans deal with and experience daily cannot be dealt with by one traditional discipline, nor by working among disciplines or within specializations (Brown, 1993). She argued that transdisciplinarians would develop the humane values of: intellectual wholeness, freedom of thought, respectful contributions through dialogue, and the human capacity for reason.

Finally, Brown (1993) argued that without a unity of human values and their interpretation (Kocklemans, 1979b, unity of world views), the values stemming from science and technology end up shaping conceptions of self and society in terms of domination, exploitation, and control. Transdisciplinarity widens individuals’ perspectives to include the essential aspects of all disciplines (not just science) and the lived experiences of humanity. She believed that this wider perspective would provide a comprehensive approach that home economists could employ for seeking agreement on the totality of meaning, relevance, and morality with which people would like to live as the human family—in the livable world. Brown asserted that when people join together through processes that lead to mutuality in values and meanings, they create a human community. Hyperspecialization precludes home economists from gaining these integral insights.

Emergent Conceptualizations of Transdisciplinarity

Daniels (1980) and Brown (1993) started the profession on its journey toward transdisciplinarity. Their vanguard thinking, and their vision of how this approach can transform practice, provided a profound service to the profession. Thirty years have lapsed since their contributions and nearly 40 years have passed since the concept of transdisciplinarity was originally conceived at the OECD meeting (Apostle et al., 1972; Jantsch, 1972b). MacCleave (2005b) asked, “are these [five approaches] still pertinent for research crossing disciplinary boundaries or is the creation of new categories, descriptions, or distinctions warranted?” (pp. 1-2). This article has shown that as the concept of transdisciplinarity has evolved, so too have home economists’ interpretations of transdisciplinary-informed practice. So, one answer to MacCleave’s question is that new distinctions are warranted, especially about transdisciplinarity.

Sue McGregor now champions the idea of transdisciplinarity and home economics, beginning with a paper for the KON Human Sciences Working Paper Series (McGregor, 2004), and continuing with subsequent works (cf. 2009a, b, 2010). What is different, however, is that McGregor is drawing on new iterations of transdisciplinarity that have evolved since the OECD (Apostel et al., 1972), Jantsch (1972a, b) and Kocklemans’ (1979b) conceptualizations. In particular, McGregor has turned to notions of transdisciplinarity that originated at the first world congress on transdisciplinarity (cf. Nicolescu, 2001). This meeting was held in 1994 in Portugal, one year after Brown’s (1993) work was published. Brown could not avail herself of Nicolescu’s (2001 and subsequent) conceptualizations of transdisciplinarity because his work did not exist. But, home economists practicing in the new millennia have the opportunity to examine this new characterization of transdisciplinarity and consider its implications for professional philosophy, scholarship, and practice.

To that end, a companion paper will provide insights into how the evolving notion of transdisciplinarity could inform home economics in the 21st century. Most significantly, transdisciplinarity has evolved as a new methodology in its own right, in keeping with empirical, interpretive, and critical methodologies (Nicolescu, 2008). This methodological innovation did not exist when Daniels (1980) and Brown (1993) prepared their thoughts. The development of an entire new methodology (understood to be philosophical assumptions underpinning research, with attendant axioms of logic, epistemology, ontology, and axiology) holds deep intellectual bearing on home economics-related, transdisciplinary-informed practice (McGregor, 2009b). Not only does the transdisciplinary approach offer an extension and enrichment to already existing traditions in the home economics discipline and profession but this approach is highly compatible with the current mission as articulated by Brown and Paolucci (1979).

Also telling is that earlier notions of transdisciplinarity that were discussed in this article were predicated on transdisciplinarity being a hyper form of interdisciplinarity. Inter means between; hence, interdisciplinarity was taken to mean work that happens between (among) disciplines in higher education (within the academy). And, earlier notions of transdisciplinarity envisioned academic scholars engaging in interdisciplinary work through a transdisciplinary perspective (see Figure 3), rather than using transdisciplinarity as a new methodology in its own right.

More recent conceptualizations of transdisciplinarity take their focus from the prefix trans, which means cross, over, beyond, through, and zigzag (i.e., iterative, lateral movement across, through, and beyond boundaries). New scholars of transdisciplinarity perceive it as more than a hyper form of interdisciplinarity. They envision it as an integrated combination of: (a) disciplinary work, (b) scholarship between and among disciplines (interdisciplinarity), and (c) knowledge generation beyond academic disciplines and across sectors external to the university (at the interface between the academy and civil society) (McGregor & Volckmann, 2010).

At the turn of the 20th century, the field was ahead of its time by recognizing the need to address broad-based problems through integrative and interdisciplinary approaches. As it moves into the 21st century, it can continue to be on the vanguard by embracing evolving notions of transdisciplinarity. Home economics can be a key player in the global movement for integral, boundary-crossing approaches to address the magnitude and complexity of current world problems faced by humanity.


1  I used the term home economics in this paper because these scholarly contributions occurred before or in the same year as the 1993 US name change.



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