One of the challenges within transdisciplinary teaching and learning is fostering safe and brave spaces for speaking and listening. 1 When collaborating, it is easy for communication to collapse into a simple game of relay where you say this and I say that. Inevitably, the soundscape can be rapidly filled with disparate opinions and, moreover, calcified positions. 

 Where speaking asserts or fills, listening requires simultaneously holding back while leaning in, and tuning into others, their disciplinary vocabulary and what they are trying to say. As the composer, musician and scholar of deep listening practices, Pauline Oliveros, points out: Listening is not the same as hearing, and hearing is not the same as listening. […] To hear is the physical means that enables perception. To listen is to give attention to what is perceived both acoustically and psychologically. 2 It means shifting away from expression and becoming aware of impressions, while suspending judgement.

Listening is an act of generosity, but also a methodology acquired and honed through a litany of skills, such as mirroring what has been said, making sure you have heard not only the words spoken but the intentions of the person talking. This may mean pausing and thinking through the words used (do we really mean the same thing?), but also being attentive to the absence of words, the silences and hesitations. Rather than filling the soundscape, it is an interesting exercise to linger on, account for silences, listening to its various forms and meanings.

Transdisciplinary education requires a framework for listening and another attitude which resists domination and mastery. The lawyer, writer and trans activist Dean Spade distinguishes two approaches to working together. One is domineering, and the other is cooperative. The former is good at talking and commanding whereas the latter requires being good at communicating: sharing and listening. 3 Such foundations are crucial as they allow for the emergence of mutually shared visions, ideas and practices.

Footnotes and references
  1. Palfrey, John. (2018). Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and free expression in education. MIT Press.[]
  2. Oliveros, Pauline. (2005) Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice (p. 21-22). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.[]
  3. Spade, Dean. (2020) Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) .Verso. Kindle Edition.[]