Monday, November 17, 2008

Envisioning Bodies of Knowledge Situated in their Habitat

Theories of Interdisciplinarity
Envisioning Bodies of Knowledge Situated in their Habitat
John Fitzgerald

In Richard Carp’s article Integrative Praxes: Learning from Multiple Knowledge Formations, he seeks to respond to a Newell article and sharpens and focuses his view of Interdisciplinarity. Although summarizing Carp’s underlying theories of interdisciplinarity would provide analysis of his view, the method which seems more appropriate would be to draw contrast between the articulation of his view and how he differentiates it from Newell’s article. Studying under Carp leads to the assumption that our statements and our knowledge are situated within our bodies that also are situated within larger bodies in both the physical and mental senses. This flexible perspective of relationships allows for in-depth observation and the formation of knowledge through immersion in experiential learning and the recognition of patterns that are then further developed through the repetitive expression of relevant thought patterns. Learning relative ways for well being through the individualized and collective experiences we live, and building knowledge formations from well planned and correctly placed thoughts or truths from multiple fields or disciplines. Rather than confining interdisciplinarity to the weaving of theories from different disciplines to create a fabric of knowledge, the fitting metaphor would involve the formation of a new entity through the complete combination of the ingredients. Cooking soup, or baking bread, in the vein of addition of different properties and introduction of heat to disassemble the ingredients into basic elements which are then melded together to form a soup or loaf of bread. Although as metaphors often go some would prefer the term stew to relate to the degree of intertwining involved in the process, while others would yet still prefer cake. Whether the preference is for soup or stew the main ideals remain present. There will always be discussion as to the relevance of the disciplines in interdisciplinary studies as Carp sees it, and as long as the discussion resembles conversation rather than argumentation it will continue to be considered interdisciplinary or one of its synonyms and will deserve a presence in the academic realm. A presence that is much needed for the constant analysis required of the disciplines, and for the construction of new disciplines.

This view of interdisciplinarity can remain consistent when applied to the specific concentration of environmental policy and planning. The statement of purpose poses a useful synopsis description, “By combining a background in science with the perspectives of economics, planning, and political science, students will have the opportunity to consider public responses to ecological issues.” This initial section is a simplified statement regarding the specific disciplines that are highlighted within the concentration. The actual knowledge formations composed from the ideas generated in each field combining together form the interdisciplinary context of the concentration, while each field on it’s own is still grounded in the traditional structuring of university systems. The second part of the statement of purpose is where the concrete proof of the interdisciplinary weight of this concentration are conveyed, “They will learn to formulate and implement creative but practical public policy and procedures regarding the environment.” This portion ends the statement because it situates this concentration of knowledge in the abyssal space created between the planes of thought represented by disciplinary thought in comparison to the thought of knowledge as formations created between disciplinary planes. It ties together the disciplines to focus the concentration towards applying the skills and understanding acquired from each separate discipline in a new way that expresses a creative, progressive, and encompassing method of working within the world. Situating yourself as a knower in the world can be related to many different fields of study, however there are strong resemblances of interdisciplinary thought within environmental thought. The realization of the mind/body connection and the necessity of interaction with an intellectual and constructively critical social structure to justify and credit pursuits of truth are key requirements of both planes of thought. Overall the most significant requirement of pursuing truth in both interdisciplinarity and in environmentalism would be to never discredit ideas based on their initial perception, and to recognize the proper function of “gate keeping” in the development of these constantly changing fields. That is, understanding to what degree new ideas are accepted or published in the studies of interdisciplinary work, the importance of this filtration, and how it impacts the development of new fields by IDS.

This discussion of interdisciplinarity in comparison with the concentration of environmental policy and planning exposes the open fluidity required from serious attempts to study within these fields. There is great discipline required to open ones mind to many specific fields that could potentially (and often do) swallow people whole, and fight them off only to tame them and drive them in a co-coordinated manner towards a higher function. However there are some over-arching goals that require the strength to manage multiple planes of knowledge and access their inner workings in a functional and efficient manner. Interdisciplinary thought helps maintain a level of sanity when continually diving back and forth between multiple different pools of information. Tying together the anthropological, political, economical, and planning aspects of environmentalism requires lots of skill in managing, organizing, analyzing, and proper application of energy. Being situated between these heavily codependent social factors places the EP&P concentration on a balance beam of compromise. As is evident in much environmental work, as well as IDS work, patience functions as lubrication to a complex system of thought and action. Again discipline is largely a necessary trait of complicated realms of study. A current issue within this field is disregard for environment and disenfranchisement of people by large profit driven corporations. Beyond social control factors, are the instances of corruption within political systems driven by capitalistic greed. The method that seems to be arising in social and civil rights struggles is the promotion of popular resistance to this unfounded power. Although we have made great strides in improvement in the social, civil and political zones, if action is not kept persistent existing powers will see to the destruction of every step that has been taken rather. Informing ourselves about what is occurring in the world is a responsibility that we accept if we wish to act with political significance in mind. Analyzing and forming decisions on what we observe and recognizing the affective methods to fight for recognition of human rights and against environmental degradation are two main methods for combating these challenges. Helping disenfranchised people organize and assert their legal rights is a large part in the war of environmental protection, and putting an end to the destructive actions taken unjustly and defended by corruption and greed.

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