Identifying transformational space for transdisciplinarity: using art to access the hidden third

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Steelman, Toddi A
Andrews, Evan
Baines, Sarah
Bharadwaj, Lalita
Bjornson, Emilie Rose
Bradford, Lori
Cardinal, Kendrick
Carriere, Gary
Fresque-Baxter, Jennifer
Jardine, Timothy D
MacColl, Ingrid
Macmillan, Stuart
Marten, Jocelyn
Orosz, Carla
Reed, Maureen G
Rose, Iain
Shmon, Karon
Shantz, Susan
Staples, Kiri
Strickert, Graham
Voyageur, Morgan
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A challenge for transdisciplinary sustainability science is learning how to bridge diverse worldviews among collaborators in respectful ways. A temptation in transdisciplinary work is to focus on improving scientific practices rather than engage research partners in spaces that mutually respect how we learn from each other and set the stage for change. We used the concept of Nicolescu’s “Hidden Third” to identify and operationalize this transformative space, because it focused on bridging “objective” and “subjective” worldviews through art. Between 2014 and 2017, we explored the engagement of indigenous peoples from three inland delta regions in Canada and as a team of interdisciplinary scholars and students who worked together to better understand long-term social–ecological change in those regions. In working together, we identified five characteristics associated with respectful, transformative transdisciplinary space. These included (1) establishing an unfiltered safe place where (2) subjective and objective experiences and (3) different world views could come together through (4) interactive and (5) multiple sensory experiences. On the whole, we were more effective in achieving characteristics 2–5—bringing together the subjective and objective experiences, where different worldviews could come together—than in achieving characteristic 1—creating a truly unfiltered and safe space for expression. The novelty of this work is in how we sought to change our own engagement practices to advance sustainability rather than improving scientific techniques. Recommendations for sustainability scientists working in similar contexts are provided.

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Sustainability Science

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© The Author(s) 2018. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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Steelman, TA; Andrews, E; Baines, S; Bharadwaj, L; Bjornson, ER; Bradford, L; Cardinal, K; Carriere, G; Fresque-Baxter, J; Jardine, TD; MacColl, I; Macmillan, S; Marten, J; Orosz, C; Reed, MG; Rose, I; Shmon, K; Shantz, S; Staples, K; Strickert, G; Voyageur, M, Identifying transformational space for transdisciplinarity: using art to access the hidden third, Sustainability Science, 2019, 14 (3), pp. 771-790