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Extended Essay: Multiple forms of integration

A guide to the research process involved in your EE.

Multiple forms of integration

There are multiple forms of integration, and one of the interesting qualities of interdisciplinary learning is that disciplines can be brought together in surprising and meaningful ways. Four examples of these are:

  • complex integration
  • contextualization
  • transdisciplinary exploration
  • artistic synthesis

Read the following descriptions of each type of integration. You will then be given four examples. Read them and decide which form of integration they represent.



Research questions often require you to understand why and how a complex event or phenomenon occurs. They may ask:

  • “Why is the climate changing?”
  • “Why did individuals behave the way they did in the past?”
  • “Why is heart disease more prominent among some human populations than others?”

Addressing questions like this requires you to draw on expertise stemming from more than one subject discipline. You can then integrate the insights from the different disciplines to give a “complex integration”. Interdisciplinary explanations of this kind offer a more comprehensive account of the problem than single disciplinary ones.



Contextualization is the placing of a particular concept or issue arising in one discipline in a larger historical, cultural or philosophical framework. Viewing the concept or issue in a different framework sheds new meaning on it.

For example, we understand Gregor Mendel’s discovery of patterns of genetic inheritance or Pablo Picasso’s creation of Guernica differently when historians place them in their historical context.

Similarly, you can integrate disciplines in meaningful ways when you examine the historical, cultural or philosophical context of the topic you are studying.



You explore transdisciplinary concepts or crossover tools when you apply a concept or skill typically found in two or more disciplines across subjects. For example:

  • Careful observation is central to data collection in biology and life drawing in the arts.
  • Evidence-based reasoning is central to both history and physics.

When you compare and contrast the use of these and similar concepts/tools across disciplines, you understand them in a more nuanced way. Some disciplinary tools, such as statistical modelling or systems thinking, are particularly easily and usefully applied across domains.

You show integrative understanding based on transdisciplinary concepts when:

  • you come to understand phenomena studied through the lens of multiple disciplines under a common conceptual frame (for example, systems theory), or
  • you reach a better understanding of particular transdisciplinary concepts (evidence-based reasoning, careful observation) through comparing and contrasting their use in multiple disciplines.



You engage in an artistic synthesis when you examine an aesthetic interpretation of a non-artistic topic or issue. For example:

  • a historical monument commemorating the Second World War
  • a poem interpreting climate change.

Artistic synthesis deepens your understanding of a topic because you have to grapple with the issues in a new way. It requires you to:

  • translate your knowledge of the topic into evocative symbolism
  • consider multiple possible interpretations
  • evaluate whether such interpretations afford new insights into the topic under study.

Successful artistic syntheses must meet aesthetic standards in the medium employed.


Example What type of integration

In his exploration of basic computer modelling, Tom compares how growth takes place in three rapidly developing countries—China, India and Brazil.

Using GDP, population, health and education data spanning a decade, he determines uneven paces of growth and estimates the direction of future growth in each country.

His analysis focuses on the importance of considering a country’s overall growth indicator as necessarily multifaceted.


In his essay about the causes of a malaria epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, Pière integrates biology and environmental systems and societies. He asks why malaria is so prevalent and unevenly distributed in this region.

The essay explains not only how pathogens cause malaria in humans but also how a changing climate and rapid deforestation are creating conditions in which mosquitoes reproduce.

While biology can explain the effects of the virus on humans, Pière needs environmental science to help shed light on the uneven distribution of the disease in the region.


Judy’s essay involves a critique of a historical monument commemorating the lives lost during the Rwanda genocide of 1994. Her paper offers an overview of the long-standing tribal conflicts in the region, the colonial era that suppressed public expression of such tension and the drastic decisions that led to the loss of nearly 800,000 lives.

Historical insights illuminate her interpretation of the aesthetic choices and symbolism employed in the monument, such as the use of a sand clock to mark the unprecedented speed at which the genocide was unleashed, or the location proposed for the monument as one enters the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


Sharmila is interested in the debates about genetically modified food. Her essay integrates biology and anthropology to examine the nature of genetically modified food as a potential solution to food crisis.

She characterizes the phenomenon of genetic manipulation of crops in detail and summarizes the debate on the topic. Her study places such debate in the intimate context of two rural communities—one in her country of origin, Brazil, and the other in India.

By contextualizing the debate, Sharmila examines how cultural traditions, economic needs and beliefs mediate the adoption of, or resistance to, innovation.