Meta-level research, crossing boundaries and appreciating differences

Boundary crossing is one of the essential characteristic of performing meta-level research - boundary crossing within disciplines, between disciplines and across disciplines and of, course, within, between and across other non-disciplinary related boundaries as well. When we play with conventional boundaries with a little awareness we get to see a broader picture. Meta-studies is largely about how we move across different conceptual, methodological and cultural (meaning-making) boundaries and what we do with the results of that movement. Creativity and fecundity flow from meta-level boundary crossing in the same way that natural systems thrive when their ecologies are diverse and rich in difference. Without diversity and difference meta-level research stagnates and turns more towards ideology than any kind of authentic science. My colleague Dr Wendelin Küpers brought to my attention this week a paper by Philipa Rothfield (2005) on the issue of universalism and its tendency towards the homogenisation of diversity. Here’s a few snippets:.

The concern expressed here is that universalism is liable to overstep its brief, that the desire to universalize is itself vulnerable to corruption.

In light of the many forms of social inequality inherent in social life, it appears that the universal impulse is all too readily co-opted towards hegemonic forms of utterance and appearance. In these instances, the universal becomes homogenized, and difference is thereby effaced according to dominant norms of articulation.

Dr Rothfield writes from a particularising perspective, one that values diversity and difference above all else. Her world is not one of the meta-studies researcher. She is not interested in finding universal patterns, generalising orientations and underlying architectonics. But her point is even more valid because she writes from the other side of an important boundary - that which lies between the universal and the particular, between the integral and the diverse, between the local and the general. She says to watch out for the domination of one over the other. All metatheorists, integral theorists, transdisciplinarians and systems theorists need to be mindful of this danger. Where when and to what extent do we, as big picture researchers and practitioners, promote diversity, look for the differences, find problems with our meta-frameworks. Do we systematically question our generalisations and test them against the plurality of theories that are our data? Do we occasionally remind ourselves of the dark history of metatheories and big pictures and unifying philosophies? Do we build these questions into our methods and designs? And if we don’t, why don’t we?


Rothfield, P (2005), 'Differentiating Phenomenology and Dance', Topoi, vol. 24, pp. 43-53.