Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Theories of Interdisciplinarity

Reflections on “Interdisciplinarity”
The multi-authored packet presents a series of theories on what not only being interdisciplinary really is and what it means, but also how unlike circumstances could raise questions which displays the “differences of opinions” in how to define interdisciplinary work.
One definition of interdisciplinary work is established in the very beginning of the article. Julie Thompson Klein and William Newell describe it has “Interdisciplinary studies may be defined as a process of answering a question, solving a problem, or addressing a topic too broad or complex to be dealt with adequately by a single discipline or profession...” Steve Fuller and Bryan Turner offer another perspective however. “I want to move away from the common idea that interdisciplinary pursuits draw their strength from building on the methods and findings of established fields. Instead, my goal is to present models of interdisciplinary research that call into question the differences between disciplines involved, and thereby serve as forums for the renegotiation of disciplinary boundaries,” Fuller writes. Turner looks to the same perspective as he writes, “interdisciplinary aims in principle at academic fusion…it seeks a recognizable and integration of disciplines.”

Taking into consideration these terms of interdisciplinarity, Newell (who is the driving force behind the entire article) explains that to first conceptualize definitions one must also have an understanding of what integration or synthesis is. He describes how the four issues (the nature of interdisciplinarity, its outcomes, the role of disciplines, and the nature of synthesis or integration) all affect the other in a certain way or other. Three “distinct visions” can come from the idea of integration and synthesis to get a better understanding of it: conceptual framework, comprehensive perspective, and a locus of activity. The conceptual framework essentially pertains to the idea of creating a foundation so that the disciplinary actions can proceed, i.e. just some basic research of what the intentions are for your interdisciplinary work. A comprehensive perspective is a more detailed conceptual framework – it is “a larger, more holistic understanding of the question, problem, or issue at hand.” (Klein and Newell) The locus of activity is another concept of research, but it is the ultimate goal to reach – where the main focuses of study come together as “interdisciplinary” to create the common goal.
So then the questions arise, some being what is changed? And must integration succeed to be interdisciplinary? This leads to the confusion of how interdisciplinary can be specific as a discipline itself. As a result, degrees of interdisciplinary have been proposed, such as the lowest degree is that integration is left entirely up to the students, and so on.
The mission statement, vision statement and the manuscript by Carp and Wentworth of the IDS department are included, but I would only like to focus myself of the part of the packet just discussed.
I have held for some time my theory on social issues, which in my opinion lead to every other issue in the world, being affected by the way humans communicate with each other. Being a military child my entire life living around the world when told to, but also having an open mind about most issues, has led to an interdisciplinary mindset. I find it easy to take the strict structure mindset and mixing it with a liberal mindset to create an overall idea of whatever is at hand. Therefore I tend to agree with both definitions presented, while the work I’m doing is more appropriate with Fuller and Tuner’s definition as an academic fusion. Taking the construction of the Communication Studies discipline and fusing it with the Interdisciplinary layout of Third World Studies simply by taking the planned classes within the same vicinity of each other (i.e. within the same semester) to examine the comparisons of each discipline and to understand how the two disciplines can become something greater for my theory, with of course not losing the boundaries of what the disciplines are (but not individually designing my major). It can be complicated because it is hard to sit down and think about which courses directly affiliate with another in different departments, but there are moments when a subject will come up in class that was brought up in another class and in which the courses have nothing to do with one another – which gives me hope that my two disciplines can really become interdisciplinary.
All in all, my conceptual framework is laid out, but I am now beginning to dive into the comprehensive perspective aspect of my interdisciplinary work because of the way courses are beginning to overlap though they are not technically related, thus everything is working out as I planned. I feel that the locus of activity part of synthesis
will not occur until I begin practicing my degree in the appropriate manner (after university), but so far everything is looking like it won’t be as difficult as initially planned for my overall interdisciplinary work.

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