Posthumanising transdisciplinary pedagogies: New directions for democratising how the arts and sciences can teach creatively together

Burnard, Pam; Colucci-Gray, Laura and Cooke, Carolyn (2021). Posthumanising transdisciplinary pedagogies: New directions for democratising how the arts and sciences can teach creatively together. In: American Education Research Association Annual Meeting, 8-12 Apr 2021, Online.


Our global community is at a pivotal juncture caught between a future of environmental and social instability on the one hand, and one of technological and technocratic determinism on the other. Such state of affairs require us to rethink how we understand, articulate and action democracy and creativity in society as well as in education. The movement from STEM to STEAM across education policy and practice highlights the interaction between the sciences and the arts and the potential of transdisciplinary creativity to excite, inspire and deepen our understanding of who we are and how we make sense of the world. But the benefits of STEAM education remain undertheorised and inequitably distributed, for STEAM education remains a complex and highly contested construct. This article provides a case for repositioning STEAM education as democratised enactments of education, where arts and sciences are not separate or even separable endeavours. The article draws upon the critical knowledges and creativities of scientists, artists and educators, working in industry and education, utilising both the human and non-human, to make a case for posthumanist transdisciplinary pedagogy.

The case. How can we move from the detailed knowledge accumulated by the singular disciplines, to the breadth of understanding and the long-term perspective of ecological and evolutionary thinking? Allowing for a multiplicity of ways of knowing is essential to dealing with the complexity of a world in transformation, whereby no single perspective is valid all of the time, but rather, a plurality of legitimate perspectives in dialogue is needed (Carrozza, 2015).

Petrie (1992) writes: “The notion of transdisciplinarity exemplifies one of the historically important driving forces in the area of interdisciplinarity, namely, the idea of the desirability of the integration of knowledge into some meaningful whole” (p. 230). While advocating integration, transdisciplinary thinking does not exclude disciplinary thinking. However, transdisciplinarity seeks to de-couple the specific language of a discipline from its original context, opening up new possibilities for viewing and experiencing the same phenomenon.

In order for transdisciplinarity to come into being a different professional stance is needed, one which Perry (2020) refers to as ‘pluriversality’, referring to the ‘surplus’ of meanings and ways of learning which may be generated to enable the complexity of a changing world to come into the realms of our experience. We take this as a generative point of departure for reformulating the purpose of STEAM education as democratising education. In making this case we draw upon Deleuzian ontology with its attention to the forces of life (and creativity) as multiplicities, and Braidotti (2019) on renewing the mechanisms of knowledge production in the educational discourse.

Transdisciplinarity involves a new orientation, one that is not anchored in binary logic, but rather recognises that knowledge(s) is/are always only ever partial and are not static or separable from the living and non-living world; instead the multiplicity of subjects are reconfigured together differently, with ideas, elements or systems that are continually intertwining. This enables a more fluid exploration of the multiplicities and meetings of sciences and arts as ‘ways of being’ located within learners’ socio-cultural, economic and political conditions.

In this view, transdisciplinary creativity will be evidenced through diffraction, used both as a methodological and as a pedagogical tool. Diffraction troubles humans’ epistemic arrogance of locating knowledge, and meaning making only in the human subject and the human mind. Rather, diffraction resists the ‘epistemic violence’ (Braidotti 2019, p. 39) done by humanism to reinstate learning and experience as fundamentally relational. As opposed to simple ‘acquisition of concepts’, transdisciplinary creativity and creative learning nurture new understandings of our dependence on others, humans and non-humans.

The evidence. We will present three empirical studies as evidence. One study will feature the diffractive analysis of a sample of 200 ‘mathartworks’ created by secondary school students. This example will bring into focus the contribution of transdisciplinary creativity to the experiences of learners whose school curricula is not fit to deal with widening social inequities and mounting environmental crises.

In the second project, in a very different context, primary school children re-define the politics of space in the school grounds through a food-growing project. Diffractive analysis of curricular discourses vis a’ vis children’s experiences uncovers the underlying problem of how to justify this as an activity of value for both children and teachers. This is the essence of a STEAM garden project: a place where the emphasis shifts from powerful to living knowledge.

In the third project, working with music student teachers, we identify and theorise a posthuman transdisciplinary pedagogy of ‘making with’. Exploring ‘teaching as improvising’ challenged habitual relationships, ways of knowing and disciplinary views of instruments and materials. Deterritorialising the term ‘improvisation’ allowed science and music to meet, and ‘making’ to be done differently.

Enacting policy and practice reform: Everyday posthumanist transdisciplinary practices. How far do the ideas and practices analysed here serve to democratise knowledge but, most importantly, to ‘expertise democracy’ (Carrozza, 2015) through Creative Educational Experiences (CEE) that make up the stuff of our everyday life? How can we push the boundaries of human-centred thinking towards new territories of transdisciplinary combining of subject disciplines? Importantly, we seek to inquire into not only how arts and sciences purposefully connect, but how they stimulate different forms of logics, rationality and affect; how they become part of an inquiry that is embedded within posthumanist times, the new normal of a COVID-19 world, and the democratisation of education.

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