The glossary entries are the result of a collaborative process among OpenHeritage consortium partners and have undergone an internal review. However, they only express the perspective of the authors listed under each term, not of all partners. You can find information on the glossary production process and the full glossary here.

Markus Kip
Georg-Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany;

Short definition

Transferability refers to the process of using insights from a particular case to understand other cases or to apply this knowledge in other settings. The challenge of transferability relates particularly to situations that are complex and multilayered, sometimes referred to as “ill-defined”, given a great or unknown number of influencing factors and non-linear relationships among them. Non-linearity is typical for real-world social situations. Under such circumstances, any attempts at transferability require a close understanding of the specific contexts from where insights are learned and to where they are to be applied. Expertise for transferability allows identifying the key elements in each situation in order to draw analogies (based on similarities) as the basis for transferring theoretical or applied knowledge.

Key discussions around the term

Transferability is a key term in transdisciplinary science discussion (Adler et al. 2018; Polk 2014; Hadorn et al. 2008) and applies to fields that engage in empirical research (sociology, psychology, etc.) as well as fields that apply knowledge (social work, engineering, etc.). Transferability in relation to adaptive reuse of cultural heritage considers what kind of lessons can be learned from case studies and how the transfer of these insights might support an interested audience to better understand their own situation and options or to inspire them to experiment or develop their practice.

A broadly accepted view on science holds that findings and insights from case studies are scientific to the extent that they are generalizable and may also help to explain or even predict similar phenomena elsewhere Krohn (2008: 369). From this perspective thus, “the less circumstantial and conditional an achieved piece of empirical knowledge is, the higher its scientific value“ (Krohn 2008: 369). The ideal experimental situation in the natural sciences allows for a causal analysis in which the relationship between an independent and dependent variable could be formulated. Krohn (2008: 369) refers to “nomothetic knowledge structures” as general laws that can be abstracted from the concrete, while “ideographic knowledge structures” pay particular attention to the concrete and its singularity. Case studies in transdisciplinary projects on adaptive heritage reuse such as at OpenHeritage are highly circumstantial and conditional, given their historically and geographically specific sites, problems and responses, and a distinct set of actors involved. Any attempt to generate generalized knowledge from case studies requires such a degree of abstraction that the knowledge would hardly be of any use to the people involved to address the practical challenges of these case studies. Generalizations in the humanities and social sciences also risk imposing particular experiences (from the Global North) as universally applicable insights or practices elsewhere (Robinson 2011). In order to apply knowledge, concrete situations and conditions need to be taken seriously and local expertise is necessary for this process.

Reference list

Adler, Carolina, Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn, Thomas Breu, Urs Wiesmann, Christian Pohl 2018. “Conceptualizing the transfer of knowledge across cases in transdisciplinary research.” Sustainability Science 13 no. 1: 179-190

Hadorn, Gertrude Hirsch, Holger Hoffmann-Riem, Susette Biber-Klemm, Walter Grossenbacher-Mansuy, Dominique Joye, Christian Pohl, Urs Wiesmann, and Elisabeth Zemp, eds. 2008. Handbook of transdisciplinary research. Dordrecht: Springer

Krohn, Wolfgang. 2008. “Learning from Case Studies” In Handbook of transdisciplinary research, edited by Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn, Holger Hoffmann-Riem, Susette Biber-Klemm, Walter Grossenbacher-Mansuy, Dominique Joye, Christian Pohl, Urs Wiesmann, and Elisabeth Zemp. 369-383. Dordrecht: Springer

Polk, Merritt 2014. “Achieving the promise of transdisciplinarity: a critical exploration of the relationship between transdisciplinary research and societal problem solving.” Sustainability Science 9 no. 4: 439-451.

Robinson, Jennifer (2011): Cities in a World of Citites: The Comparative Gesture. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(1): 1-23.