Multi-disciplinarity and Knowledge Interests in
Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku
Ossip Flechtheim believed that the new science,
futurology would help in
• preventing wars;
• abolishing hunger and poverty in the world;
• the fight against deprivation;
• democratisizing societies;
• stopping exploitation of the Nature, and
• fighting against alienation.
The creation of Homo Humanus, an better human
Flechtheim’s Basic Insights
The four basic insights of Flechtheim’s futurology:
• The understanding of problems as universal
(global, multidimensional, systemic);
• Complexity and systemic worldview (no
problem can be solved by merely fixing one
part or sector;
• We can affect the future by understanding the
• A moral and ethical point of view, reformation
Diversity in futures studies
Diversity and in futures studies means that the story
told (scenario) is composed of multiple levels and
several viewpoints, for instance, social, technological,
ecological, economical and political (STEEP). Therefore,
by nature, futures studies
• is multidisciplinary to begin with, because we strive
for holistic models;
• aims at being distinguished from the futures
scanning of different individual sciences by
especially emphasising the holistic point of view, and
• utilizes systems theory and other methods and tools
which highligh diversity.
The Different Stages of Multi-disciplinarity
Explains a problem which simultaneously
spreads in the field of two or more sciences.
The point of view is specific to each separate science /
discipline, and it is dependent on the character of the
phenomenon under study.
The limits of each separate science to alone solve the
problem are recognised.
Interplay between sciences is not at the focus –- the
emphasis is rather on the problem itself.
Example: Some global environmental phenomenon which
causes problems in different countries is interesting to both
ecologists, sociologists, biologists, political researchers,
economists etc., each from the viewpoint of their own field.
Explains a phenomenon / problem from the
grounds laid by interaction between scientists
from different scientific backgrounds.
In an interdisciplinary study, the concepts, theories and
methods used to understand and solve it derive from
many different sciences. The focus is to make the
problem / phenomenon more understandable.
The scientific study is a systematic process in which
problems are presented from one scientific angle to
Example: A scientific conference (method) called together by
the UN in order to discuss and study a common,
multidisciplinary problem. The aim is to gain a common
understanding and consensus based on the needs, values
and interests of each nation, religion and ethnic group of the
This process gradually makes it possible for a new discipline
The nature of the problem prevents a thorough investigation
with traditional tools and techniques, and/or old theories are
not sufficient to explain the whole. Multiscientific problems
are often like this – they cannot be planted in any science
that is already existing. Therefore the researchers have to
break away from traditional methods and thinking and form a
new domain (school or science)
Example: The birth and development of futures studies is a good
example; it is a field of thought which can be approached from the
background of any traditional science. It starts to fulfil the criteria of
a true science (Niiniluoto).
! !Explains a problem from the
details and characteristics of that
phenomenon itself in order to gain
as wide and thorough
understanding from it as possible.
The challenges of multidisciplinarity
• In a futures project, how to persuade the
representatives of different sciences and disciplines
to a dialogue which is problem-oriented so that no
single science dominates?
• How can an individual futurist learn to master
• How to question and break the unnecessary borders
• How to avoid the situation where multidisciplinarity
ends up as a mere label or superficial talk?
The dilemma of multidisciplinarity
On one hand, it is sensible to take into account as many
relevant futures impacts as possible.
On the other hand, the multiplicity of fields of analysis
generates disjointedness and immeasurableness.
the more futures impacts, the more difficult they are to
1. To make commensurate: choose a shared measure of a
value or meaning, utility (eg. the evaluation of ecological and
economic futures impacts in money)
1. To transfer to border condition (eg. to formulate them as the
primary assumptions which structure decision-making).
Knowledge Interests in Research
Source: P. Kyrö, www.metodix.fi 30 May,
Technical (Instrumental) Knowledge Interest
Searches information that can be used to explain the study
object and/or control its behaviour in its natural environment.
Methods of study: Empirical and experimental data gathering
and analysis; measurement techniques, observing techniques,
laboratory techniques, statistical methods, trend analysis, etc.
Values: objectivity, value neutrality
Goal: technical realisation
An answer is searched to
• What are the possible futures of the problem/question/phenomenon at
• What is the level of probability of each possible future?
• What are the interfering variables?
Practical (Interpretative, Hermeneutical)
Aims at understanding the problem or phenomenon under study
from the human point of view.
Methods of study: interpretative data gathering methods, i.e.
discourse analysis, SSM.
Goal: Meaning of phenomena, actor’s choices and behaviour,
expectations, value preferences etc. Is used to create a value
analysis based on the different interpretations of a phenomenon.
Values: pluralism, equality of different interpretations.
An answer is searched to:
• What are the different interpretations of the future of the issue/research
problem etc. under study?
• What makes them different?
• How can we reach a common (and democratic) view and understanding
on the future of this issue/research problem etc. at hand?
Critical (Emancipatory) Knowledge Interest
Focuses on the factors behind the subjective conceptions of the
problem or phenomenon under study (power relations, politics &
policy choices, appreciations, social needs, interests,
Values: Liberation from conventional and conformist thinking in
order to reveal new viewpoints, meanings, hidden social
relations, etc. Normative by nature
Goal: Aims at change, renewal.
Methods of study: action research, CLA (Causal Layered
Analysis), value analysis, futures workshops, sometimes Delphoi,
An answer is searched to:
• How can we free ourselves from our preconceptions, ideas and beliefs
which tend to be largely inbuilt and unconscious?
• How can we broaden the variety of futures that genuinely are
Is based on a person’s own subjective feelings, experiences,
culture, language, and realisations.
Values: Creativity, search for new ways to see in order to
make better choices; openness to change.
Goal: The motive behind all scientific work is intuitive and
creative by nature, and therefore important to all the other
three forms of knowledge interests.
An answer is searched to:
• How can we use our creativity in a courageous and high-spirited way to
understand, open and describe alternatives and possibilities?
Intuition and Creative Thinking
Three Types of Imagination
• Extrapolation of current trends
• Critique room for new ideas
• Reveals what is wrong
• Search for structural weaknesses in the existing state
of affairs creating a context for alternative futures
• Reveals why things are wrong
• Strikes out on a completely new cause
• Breaks radically with prevalent concepts opens the
way for something new to emerge