Graduate School of Human SciencesWaseda University

About the School

From the Dean

Opening the Door to ‘Transdisciplinary’ Studies

INOUE Makoto
Dean, Graduate School of Human Sciences

Welcome to the Graduate School of Human Sciences website!
My guess is that all of you feel vaguely uneasy about your futures, but that somehow you also manage to have your own hopes and dreams, and entertain the desire to fulfill them. In our modern society we face countless problems such as climate change, natural disasters, COVID-19, and others affecting society as a whole, as well as our personal problems. Precisely because of the nature of our era, it’s important that we live ordinary everyday lives as we focus on the creation of a new society, while at the same time not losing our innate human nature (that is, our humanity) such as love and consideration for others. It’s here we find the significance of “human sciences,” that branch of learning which seeks to maintain our humanity and improve the quality of our livelihoods.

This graduate school’s aim is to foster new kinds of flexible researchers and practitioners who have practical skills enabling them to tackle the many problems that challenge us. To achieve that aim, we need to focus primarily on the following three requirements.

First is crossing the boundaries between academic disciplines. This refers to “interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary” research. The specific objective is to have a field of expertise in which one is strong, and additionally gain some grounding in several other academic disciplines. We aim to foster talents who understand the thinking and methods of at least a few specialized areas and can participate in discussions.

Second is transcending the boundaries of academic study. This refers to “practicality.” In other words, it means fostering talents who can link scholarship with practice, or do both simultaneously.

Third is attempting “transdisciplinary” research which by nature combines the first and second requirements. Heretofore, specialized researchers at universities, research institutes, and other organizations have been tasked with the creation of new knowledge and the development of technologies in interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary research, but actually a variety of actors including community members, NGOs, administrative authorities, and businesses who use the knowledge and technologies created by researchers have met challenges by employing their indigenous and local knowledge, their respective experiences, and their inventiveness and resourcefulness. As such, what we need now is transdisciplinary research that would transcend the “interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary” framework so that — as we collaborate and coordinate with a variety of actors including local communities — we determine research goals from the perspective of the involved parties, carry out the research with those parties to the greatest extent possible, and envision the social implementation of research results. This graduate school should be characterized mainly by its mission to train the capable people who will sustain this kind of transdisciplinary research. We are already partnering with Tokorozawa City on community development, and many on our teaching staff and students are working on transdisciplinary research both in Japan and abroad.

The Science Council of Japan vigorously promotes “Future Earth,” which is an interdisciplinary and international cooperative research program launched in 2015 by entities including the world research community and the United Nations with the aim of bringing about a sustainable global society. The importance attached to transdisciplinary research in the Future Earth program is another indication that the orientation of the Graduate School of Human Sciences is one which benefits humanity as a whole.

But there’s something here we need to keep in mind: It’s not enough for “practicality” and “being transdisciplinary” to be merely useful. They must be invested with the university’s founding spirit of “the independence of scholarship,” that is, the “outsider’s spirit” and a “critical mind,” without being compromised by contemporary trends or co-opted by authority. In other words, we are asked to maintain a delicate balance between benefiting humanity as a whole, while at the same time not being compromised by contemporary trends or co-opted by authority.

That can’t be done by specialists who sequester themselves within their own shells; it’s a job that takes specialists acting as mature “citizens” with the capacity to make responsible judgments. The essential prerequisite for that is a true education, whereby the interdisciplinary nature of human sciences is supposedly used to good advantage. And when all is said and done, it is what we learn at the venue, and sometimes our struggle with the venue, that provide us with the specific guidance used when making judgments as citizens. You will endure trials as you work with a variety of involved parties (stakeholders) at venues where the problems you are researching actually arise. My hope is that, in the belief you can find the hope that leads to solutions, you will play a role in creating a new society.

I invite you to open the door to transdisciplinary research and embark on a journey to a new world with us instructors and staff members.

(September 21, 2020)

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