Towards the establishment of a new transdisciplinary area of scholarship in infrastructure and cities: A literature review

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Many of the specialisms upon which infrastructure and cities rely for their effective design, operation, governance, management and maintenance are underpinned by the principles of certainty, accuracy, precision and prediction. Not least of these is civil engineering. Yet, infrastructures and cities are characterised by complexity and emergence. In recent decades, understandings of infrastructures and cities have begun to reflect these properties and, in particular, transdisciplinarity is promoted as critical to advancing these new understandings. However, this potentially presents conceptual and operational challenges for civil engineering (and other specialisms) as there is a fundamental mismatch between the certainty, accuracy, and precision required by engineers and the complexity and emergence of transdisciplinary research approaches.
The forms of value arising from these approaches (i.e., the scientific and knowledge contributions) are themselves contentious, leaving practitioners exposed to competing claims and making them ill-prepared to exploit new insights to full advantage. This review explores these mismatches and contentions, laying a foundation for how civil engineers in particular (and other urban professionals, and indeed those from other disciplines) can conduct research in infrastructure and cities whilst leveraging emergent, transdisciplinary approaches. It informs the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC, UKCRIC represents a paradigm shift in the UK’s approach to infrastructure and cities research: how it is conceived, funded, organised and put into practice. Transdisciplinary research approaches have the potential to enable this paradigm shift.
This report explores transdisciplinary research approaches and how they can add value to the study of infrastructure and cities, with a focus upon civil engineering. It explores two questions: are transdisciplinary research approaches suited to the study of infrastructure and cities, and are the studies of infrastructure and cities suited to transdisciplinary research approaches. In so doing, it tests the authors’ working hypothesis that transdisciplinarity in this context must incorporate an ability to work constructively and collaboratively beyond one’s own discipline by virtue of developing an understanding of the philosophies, cultures, languages, methodologies, and to some degree literatures, of all the disciplines involved in infrastructure and urban design, and thereby shape how all the disciplines influence the combined activity. This report examines how UKCRIC can foster transdisciplinary partnerships and activities, delivering academic and industry impact nationally and internationally.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages52
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • transdisciplinarity
  • interdisciplinarity
  • infrastructure
  • cities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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