Trialog Research Method

To conduct this cross-cultural, interdisciplinary research the project will create and test a research method called a “cross-cultural, interdisciplinary trialog.” In this framework scholars who work on the critical theories of the body will engage with scholars who work on social and political theory and also with scholars who work on critical theories of nature. At the same time this interdisciplinary trialog will be pursued cross-culturally with Chinese philosophical and cultural traditions. This method represents an advance in that the comparative studies cited previously have been the idiosyncratic work of one or two people with unusual expertise. This project aims to develop a general, systematic method that can be re-used by others in different areas of research and different cultural traditions.

The trialog research method is thus a kind of humanities laboratory for developing, testing and refining interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research questions. The basic idea is that a scholar makes a formal presentation from within their discipline and tradition (e.g. Western critical theory of the body), and a response is then offered by two other scholars working within the other disciplines. This process is then repeated, starting from the other tradition. A focussed discussion then takes place in which key issues are framed cross-culturally and interdisciplinarily. In total six scholars are required.

Funding from the Queen’s Research Opportunities Fund enabled the PI and five collaborators to meet in Beijing in September to test this method in a workshop held at Beijing Normal University (BNU). We found that the method was successful in enabling a rich inquiry to be built up quickly so as to produce serious engagement across disciplines and cultures. Students who attended the workshop remarked that they rarely had the opportunity to hear six scholars discussing the same problem from two cultures and three perspectives. Furthermore, they reported that this interdisciplinary method stimulated new insights into their own research areas.

An equally important aspect of this method, therefore, is that it promotes a new interdisciplinary pedagogy. The “trialog” between scholars working in different disciplines and across cultures could be observed and practiced by graduate students in the context of three summer institutes that we hope to create. Graduate students from Canada and China will observe and participate in the trialogs, and undertake their own research projects related to the project’s themes, under the supervision of the scholars that the project will fund. In this way the project will not only conduct its own research, but at the same time train a new generation of bicultural scholars who have the capacity to develop fluency in multiple philosophical traditions and extend this transformation in critical theory through their own research.

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