In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Transdisciplinary Science

  • Introduction
  • History
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks
  • Journals
  • Leadership
  • Community Engagement
  • Evaluation
  • Teaching

Social Work Transdisciplinary Science
Sarah Gehlert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0027


This bibliography identifies resources relevant to the adaptation of social work to participating on transdisciplinary teams whose members span a range of other academic disciplines, in a variety of research and practice settings. Transdisciplinarity refers to an approach to research and practice in which persons from a range of disciplines attempt to work on shared projects from outside their own separate disciplinary spaces. The approach is inherently holistic and is thus congruent with social work values. It is distinguished from interdisciplinarity, in which persons from one discipline step outside their own discipline to acquire knowledge, but return to their home discipline to apply that knowledge. It likewise is distinguished from multidisciplinarity, in which scholars from a variety of disciplines work together at some point, but approach issues through separate disciplinary lenses. References fall into two groups. The vast majority have to do with health research and practice. A smaller body of work, however, comes from education and the humanities. Areas of potential relevance to social work include child welfare, aging and elderly affairs, death and dying, criminal and juvenile justice, and community development. While most references focus exclusively on transdisciplinarity, some references on interdisciplinarity are included if, though limited in scope, they provide information pertinent to transdisciplinarity. While a few references relate to social work, relevant references that originate in other disciplines predominate, because the field of social work has yet to produce a significant body of information on the topic.


A few references address the place and history of transdisciplinarity in research and practice and provide overviews of its potential uses. Rosenfield 1992, an early proponent of transdisciplinarity, argues convincingly that transdisciplinary approaches are essential to understanding and ameliorating increasingly complex health and social problems in the United States. Rosenfield provides a history of the first decades of its development. Kahn and Prager 1994 makes a strong case for the many ways interdisciplinary collaborations strengthen science. The two references named above would be useful in course work for introductory undergraduate and graduate research courses and also useful for professional societies wishing to introduce and promote the topic to their members. Abrams 2006 defines the scope of transdisciplinarity in time and space. Hiatt and Breen 2008 paints a particularly useful and clear picture of how transdisciplinarity might integrate or unify a field—in this case cancer research, practice, and policy.

  • Abrams, D. B. 2006. Applying transdisciplinary research strategies to understanding and eliminating health disparities. Health Education & Behavior 33.4: 515–531.

    DOI: 10.1177/1090198106287732

    Abrams, then the director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the National Institutes of Health, argues for a scope of transdisciplinary science that includes the basic behavioral, and social sciences and encompasses a range from discovery to dissemination to policy change.

  • Hiatt, R. A., and N. Breen. 2008. The social determinants of cancer: A challenge for transdisciplinary science. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35.2 Suppl.: S141–S150.

    Concentrates on the social determinants of cancer and offers a broad perspective on how transdisciplinarity can be helpful to multiple aspects of cancer practice and research, including levels of analysis, points along the continuum of cancer care, and types of intervention.

  • Kahn, R. L., and D. J. Prager. 1994. Interdisciplinary collaborations are a scientific and social imperative. Scientist 17:11–12.

    This often-cited reference provides a terse and cogent argument for the necessity of interdisciplinary collaborations to advance science.

  • Rosenfield, P. L. 1992. The potential of transdisciplinary research for sustaining and extending linkages between health and the social sciences. Social Science & Medicine 35.11:1343–1357.

    DOI: 10.1016/0277-95369290038-R

    Offers a strong argument for the necessity of cross-disciplinary research approaches to health problems, and specifically for the importance of transdisciplinary approaches. The reference is a useful and cogent commentary by a long-term advocate for transdisciplinarity.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.