Monday, November 17, 2008

Theories of Interdisciplinary

Kegan Refalo
Moving through these lines of text was a mix of nostalgic rediscovery and head-tilting reinterpretation. My reading of “Interactive Praxis: Learning from Multiple Knowledge Formations” was situated in my past experience of being a student and advisee of Richard Carp. The article felt like a synthesized version of the course, “Histories of Knowledges,” that first introduced me to Carp and the Interdisciplinary program at Appalachian. I was surprised to see how I have employed the concepts discussed in this article in my IDS: individually designed major and senior thesis project.

In this article Carp is responding to William Newell’s work “A Theory of Interdisciplinary Studies.” Carp critiques Newell’s article because he presupposes a common understanding of the term interdisciplinary, an understanding that situates disciplines as unquestioned natural occurrences. Newell’s position also ignores the body and inhibits the progression into the unknowable future (2001, p. 87).

Carp details his argument against rallying behind the term interdisciplinary because the term focuses too much on disciplines, thus erasing the legitimacy of non-academic knowledge formations (2001, p. 75). It ignores the history, the power dynamics and the cultural situation of disciplines, of research, and of knowledge. Carp suggests that the tendency of interdisciplinary studies to ask questions and find solutions only within the pre-established boundaries of disciplines and thus academia, limits the person’s ability to progress into the unforeseeable future (2001, p. 87). Disciplines, instead, serve the economy and the industrial complex. The false notion of objectivity is used to support and create the hierarchy of knowledge that lines more pocket than it expands minds. He also discusses the absence of bodies in the discussion of knowledges and in the structures of imparting knowledge on to others. Academia trains the body to be disciplined, still and invisible (2001, p. 101), which is counter to the lived experience of knowledge formation where formation, knowing, learning, and investigation all intermingled and dynamic (2001, p. 75).

Carps discussion on knowledge formation can be compared to a mobius strip where there is no beginning or end and all oppositions are inherently integrated and codependent. He “propose[s] that we abandon altogether the metaphor of “interdisciplinary” and its dependence on the image of the disciplines, replacing it with an image of integrative praxis that learn from multiple knowledge formations.” (2001, p. 109). He focuses on the importance in integration as a way to employ all of the tools available in order to actualize “living well,” which he sees as the aim of reason (2001, p. 73).

The desire to take theories and apply them to the world in a way that improves the daily quality of life is a main motivation for my concentration. I have come to terms with the reality that I cannot aspire to change the minds of others or inspire empathy. However I can provide tools. I can send ripples in the pond of status quo to stir the American zombies. I can believe in the ideal of “mindful bodies and embodied minds.” (2001, p. 87). My concentration on fashion draws upon the inclusion of the body as a legitimate source of knowledge. It supports the inclusion of visual signifiers, as embedded semiotic codes, in the meaning making process. My concentration draws from numerous disciplines, from my memories, lived experiences and observations of my surrounding communities. I could not properly articulate “fashion as a social skin” without this foundation of knowledge formations, which relay on the interdependencies of theory and praxis and of academic and non-academic knowledge.

An interesting point made by Carp is how the formation of disciplines and the western academic structure is dependent on the formation of a new understanding of self. The modern idea of an engaged self that is actively education, examining and inscribing their discoveries upon their bodies is foundational to my analysis of the role of fashion in the display of the self. Especially Haraway’s idea that the self is never a finished whole, but constantly being constructed and “stitched together.” (2001, p. 74). The fluidity of fashion that I propose is the praxis of the fluidity of self. I see fashion as a conversation. It is a negotiation between intention, contexts and environment. It is simultaneously an exploration and formation of knowledges.

As I solidify my senior thesis project, I struggle with what information should be included. I have a wide base of theory and study situated within disciplines. I have the last four years of poignant experiences in fashion related spaces and analysis. Theses experiences are built upon memories, memories that until recent reflection I was unaware of their influence on my ideas. I am situated in layers of context and acutely aware of my subjectivity. It is my narrative that keeps sparking people’s attention. It is the non-disciplinary knowledge that enriches my thesis and enables it to be more accessible. I choose to create an artist’s book instead of a research thesis paper because I wanted to engage the body. The formation of the book brought to surface my narrative. Presently, I am interweaving the theory, my narrative, images of my body and interactive textural elements into the presentation of my thesis. This culmination of my last four and a half years of studying is an integrated praxis of my knowledge formations. It is a manifestation of my attempt to “ imagine the world so that [my] imaginings reveal us to be in that very world [I am] imagining.” (2001, p. 111). My artist’s book is a conversation with the reader; it is the most recent manifestation of the “conversation without end” that I am engaging in as a knower.

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