Artistic and Humanistic Approaches to Team Science

Poetry, Space, and Embodiment: A Case Study in Transdisciplinary Collaboration

Dr. Ellen Moll, Michigan State University; Dr. Nancy DeJoy, Michigan State University

Theories of transdisciplinarity have often emphasized the need for transdisciplinary collaborations to address complex “real world” problems, such as climate change and sustainability (for example, see Jahn, et al. 2012). Klein (2014) has shown that the emphasis on problem-solving in discourses on transdisciplinarity has at times been influenced by a desire to address “‘real problems of the community’ and the demand that universities perform their pragmatic social mission,” and to find transdisciplinary formations that effectively address “wicked problems”; Klein also interrogates the assumptions and histories that underlie this emphasis. In this paper, we will use the case study of MSU’s Sidewalk Poetry Project to theorize about what constitutes a “real world,” “pragmatic,” and “wicked” problem within the context of transdisciplinary collaboration, and to suggest that such collaborations can challenge the boundaries between theoretical and real-world knowledge. Particularly, we show how team science can reveal that the boundary between theoretical and real-world problems, and between simple and complex problems, are politically laden distinctions.

MSU’s Sidewalk Poetry Project solicited original poetry from the university and local community, and engraved selected poems in sidewalks around Michigan State University’s campus. The collaboration involved multiple forms of academic and non-academic expertise poets, scholars, concrete work specialists, landscape designers, and campus planning and facilities professionals working together. This team made decisions based on forms of expertise related to poetry and aesthetics, community values, new techniques for concrete engraving, ADA compliance, decades-long knowledge of the physical characteristics of each spot on campus, and others.

Public poetry, and sidewalk poetry in particular, raises questions that might be considered highly theoretical within arts and humanities disciplines: What is the purpose of poetry? What does it mean for poetry to reflect and contribute to a community? How does the appearance, texture, and location of a poem shape different community members’ experience of the poem? What does it mean to physically move through the space of a poem, and how does this motion relate to what it means, more generally, for diverse bodies to move through institutional spaces? This paper argues that such questions are indeed “real world,” pragmatic, and even wicked problems, and that they therefore are best answered in local contexts through transdisciplinary teams that put diverse forms of disciplinary and community knowledge practices into practice.  Drawing on interviews with collaborators and personal narratives, we show how technical, community, aesthetic, political, legal, and design expertise work together to build new community-based knowledge about poetry, bodies, and space.

Note: Professor Nancy Dejoy, a co-presenter, was also leader of this transdisciplinary team and so will also be able to add personal narratives about the project to the presentation.


Klein, Julie Thompson. Discourses of transdisciplinarity: Looking Back to the Future

Futures, Volume 63, November 2014, pp. 68-74.

Jahn, Thomas, Matthias Bergmann, Florian Keil. Transdisciplinarity: Between mainstreaming and marginalization, Ecological Economics, Volume 79, 2012, pp. 1-10.


Connecting an Art-Science Practice to Collaborations

Dr. Edgar Cardenas, Michigan State University

The complexity and interconnectedness of sustainability issues has led to the joining of disciplines. This effort has been primarily within the sciences with minimal attention given to the relationship between science and art. The exclusion of art is problematic since sustainability challenges are not only scientific and technical; they are also cultural, so the arts, as shapers of culture, are critical components that warrant representation. In addition to contributing to the production of culture, arts have also been credited as catalysts for scientific breakthroughs; thus it stands to reason that understanding art-science integration will benefit sustainability’s focus on use-inspired basic research. This study focused on understanding a) how teams collect information, generate responses, and validate their ideas; b) how artists challenge or accept scientists’ ideas (and vice versa); and c) how teams go about generating and picking ideas, and how they negotiate disagreements. In other words, I address the question “What does it take to develop high functioning artist-scientist collaborations?”

To answer this question, I used a multipronged approach to increase the explanatory power of an in-vivo study aimed at understanding of what art-science synthesis offers sustainability and how it functions. I conducted a small group study of three-person artist-scientist teams tasked with developing interpretive signage for the Tres Rios constructed wetland site. I collected survey, ethnographic, and Sociometric badge data (wearable sensors that collect speaking, movement, and interaction data). These three methods helped triangulate how team members believed they and their team performed, how I believed they performed, and how wearable technologies can provided high-resolution datasets that allow for deeper quantitative analyses of speech dynamics. The objective of this data collection was to establish a rich understanding of individual and group factors that hinder or foster group creativity.

In addition to discussing methods, this presentation will cover the following findings: 1) successful art-science practices require significant energy and time investment. 2) Although art-science is most intensive in an individual practice where the person must become “fluent” in two disciplines, it is still challenging in a group setting where members must become “conversational” in each other’s work. 3) Successful art-science syntheses appear to result in improved communication skills, better problem articulation, more creative problem solving, and the questioning of personal and disciplinary mental models.


Integration as a Non-Reductive Team Virtue

Dr. Stephen Crowley, Boise State University; Dr. Brian Robinson, Texas A&M University-Kingsville; Dr. Chad Gonnerman, University of Southern Indiana

“A champion team will always beat a team of champions.” Success at an elite level in team sport requires as much individual level excellence as an organization can acquire but by itself such excellence is not enough. The individuals need to come together in some fashion that makes them more than a mere collection of individuals: they need to become a team.

In the context of team science, our story suggests that creating ‘champion’ teams requires insight into

a)The nature of individual excellence in question

b)The nature of collective excellence in question

c)A story about how a) and b) interact.

There is much great work already on all of a-c. The work of Lotrecchiano and colleagues [1] on collaboration readiness tells a great deal about the character and motivation of scientific collaborators. Longino’s work on how scientific knowledge arises out of the ‘democratic’ structures of scientific communities is a model of how to think about collective excellence for knowledge making teams [2]. We think that by taking philosophical work on epistemic virtues and extending it to character of successful teams, we can enrich our theoretical understanding of ‘champion’ teams in ways that are both illuminating and ultimately fruitful.

Two recent developments in epistemology directly bear on knowledge production efforts by science teams. Social epistemology is the growing field of study that emphasizes the ways in which knowledge is molded, or perhaps even constituted, by social and collective relationships and institutions [3]. Since team science relies upon collective efforts to generate and convey knowledge, the relevance of social epistemology to the science of team science has not gone unrecognized [2].

Meanwhile, within virtue epistemology, a recent focus has been on what intellectual character traits count as excellences of a knower by enabling or fostering knowledge production or dissemination [4]. To date, virtue epistemology primarily focuses on epistemic virtues of individuals. While this focus can help us to analyze what epistemic virtues makes one a good member of a scientific team (topic a above), it has not yet addressed the larger social dimensions of team-based knowledge production (topics b and c above).

In this talk we will combine the threads of social epistemology and virtue epistemology, building on Lahroodi’s account of collective epistemic virtues. Specifically, we argue for non-reductive team virtues [5]. If scientific teams can produce new knowledge that no individual person can and knowledge production requires epistemic virtues, then it follows that there are virtues possessed by the teams or communities that produce them. We further claim that these are excellent traits of a group of people that arise from the group structure, dynamics, or the relation between the epistemic virtues of individual group members. Nevertheless, these team epistemic virtues do not reduce down to the virtues of individual group members such that individual team members can be said to possess this virtue. The primary example of a non-reductive team virtue we suggest is integration.


1)  Lotrecchiano, G. R., Mallinson, T.R., Leblanc-Beaudoin, T., Schwartz, L.S., Danielle Lazar, D., Falk-Krzesinski, H.J. (2016) Individual motivation and threat indicators of collaboration readiness in scientific knowledge producing teams: a scoping review and domain analysis. Heliyon

2) Longino, H. E. (1990). Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02051-5

3) Goldman, A. and Blanchard, T. (2015). Social epistemology. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

4) Zagzebski, L. (2017). Exemplarist Moral Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

5) Lahroodi, R. (2007). Collective epistemic virtues. Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy 21(3): 281-297.

SciTS Presentation: Integration as a Non-Reductive Virtue


TDI Structured Dialogue + Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Dr. Anna Malavisi, Western Connecticut State University

Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator and philosopher used a critical pedagogical methodology to teach literacy to poor Brazilian people, which later extended to many other Latin American countries. He believed that people would  take responsibility for their own situation only when they understand it. This understanding came about from a process of concientizacion through a dialogical approach. In this paper I explore the possibility of bringing some aspects of Freire's critical pedagogy to the structured dialogue used in TDI, particularly for working in the aid sector. It seems that professionals working in the aid sector would also benefit from a process of concientizacion to better understand the lives of the people with whom they are working with, but also the structural issues which perpetuate global injustices. This process can be set in motion by the TDI approach.

Teams of development professionals working with the oppressed in richer developed countries or poorer, disadvantaged countries in the south are often confronted with highly challenging issues such as: trying to address the needs and priorities of vulnerable communities, but at the same time respond to the demands of their donors. This creates a tension, that is often not confronted, or is done so in a rather token way. And while development teams may have the best intentions, often times, due to structural issues, these best intentions prove to be insufficient and inadequate to generate the transformative action that is required.

The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative (, an example of engaged philosophy offers an innovative, concrete, and tangible approach to critical dialogue that can help in two ways. First, it can generate a space for critical dialogue within global development teams about issues that matter to them; second, it can enable discussion and analysis of specific  concerns such that afflict development teams and organizations, such as conflicting assumptions, power dynamics, implicit biases, ethical issues, and epistemic injustice.  Rooted in philosophical analysis, Toolbox workshops enable cross-disciplinary collaborators to engage in a structured, reflexive dialogue about tacit assumptions that constitute the worldviews which frame their practice.

Freire's work emphasizes the importance of reflection-action, that is, to work with the dialectical tension of theory and practice. This is crucial for development teams. Paulo Freire taught that the rhetoric and the praxis needed to go together. Pure activism brought chaos together with poor planning and therefore poor results. Pure rhetoric on the other hand brought abstract theorizations, nebulous hypotheses and likewise poor results, something that has been observed over the years in the aid sector.  Dialogue for Freire cannot be reduced to the depositing of ideas from one to another, nor a simple exchange of ideas. Dialogue could only take place in the absence of domination of one over the other, and in the presence of humility. How can TDI through its structural dialogue process ensure that these principles are upheld? Is TDI compatible with Freire's ideas? This paper is an attempt to answer some of these questions.

SciTS Presentation: TDI Structured DIalogue + Pedagogy of the Oppressed