We are currently faced with the unprecedented situation of having reached many ecological limits under conditions of extreme development pressures; a situation where the environment is responding in ways that are increasingly difficult to anticipate and/or understand. Disciplinary research – entrenched in traditional approaches – have proved insufficient for addressing these responses and persistent challenges, including biodiversity loss and resource degradation, population growth, famine, poverty, renewable energy options and global warming. Effective solutions to these (and other) complex socio-ecological systems problems will require new approaches that allows for innovative, transdisciplinary thinking and understanding.
Throughout the world, in both developed and developing countries, universities are responding to the global challenge of sustainability by establishing inter- and trans-disciplinary programmes and centres of research and teaching excellence. These centres aim to build a better understanding of the social, cultural, economic, institutional, political, technological and ecological changes required to respond to the accumulating negative consequences of unsustainable use and distribution of resources. In its response to this challenge, Stellenbosch University (SU) acknowledges that it is insufficient to comprehend the ‘polycrisis’ that we face - and the required solutions - via using the traditional set of disciplines that determine the structure and purpose of university departments and faculties. A transdisciplinary challenge requires a transdisciplinary response.
In order to understand and respond to the complex nature of the sustainability challenges, it has become critical to explore new ways of knowing and producing knowledge so as to develop an integrated understanding of all the interacting systems, in particular inter-related natural and social systems. Transdisciplinarity and complexity thinking for the study of the dynamics of complex systems forms the epistemological and methodological focus of the TsamaHUB. The challenge of sustainability is not simply about bringing together different disciplines. We accept that it is also about changing and extending our understanding of knowledge beyond current disciplinary and institutional boundaries, and, in so doing, explicating what we mean when we claim that we have knowledge about a particular system or cluster of inter-connected systems.
Currently many academics across a number of different departments are being approached by an increasing number of potential doctoral researchers who want to engage in a programme of study that is not confined to a particular discipline. The existing system does not provide either them or the University with an easy way to implement such a programme. In this regard, there are problems of registration, joint supervision, financial flows, and ways of approving proposals that define a programme of study that goes beyond the disciplinary boundaries of the department/faculty. In order to solve this problem, the TsamaHUB plays a crucial role in the inter-departmental and inter-faculty collaboration and cooperation needed for the successful implementation and delivery of the Doctoral Programme in Sustainability and Complexity Studies.