On Reinventing the Wheel of Interdisciplinarity

Perhaps! But who wishes to concern himself with such dangerous “Perhapses”!                                                                                                                                                                                         — Nietzsche

Perhaps nothing is more susceptible to the charge of ‘reinventing the wheel’ than theories or definitions of ‘interdisciplinarity’. Perhaps, though, this is also part of its charm (another allusion to Nietzsche). Witness the following, from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Arise 2 report:

By transdisciplinary, we mean to suggest an approach that represents a functional synthesis of methodologies and a broad point of view that combines different fields. This is a step beyond interdisciplinary, which borrows techniques from different fields without integrating them to yield new concepts and approaches.

I recently wrote an article, which appeared some time ago online, but which will finally be published as part of a special issue of Synthese on ‘Philosophy of/as Interdisciplinarity‘. The article begins by tracing a brief history of interdisciplinarity and establishing what I call a ‘baseline vocabulary’ — something on which most, if not all, scholars of interdisciplinarity agree at some basic level. Here is what I said about multidisciplinarity (MD), interdisciplinarity (ID), and transdisciplinarity (TD):

Even if there is currently no single, agreed-upon definition of ID, there is, at least, something like a baseline common vocabulary for discussing ID and its cognates (MD, TD, and sometimes pluridisciplinarity). Klein (1990, 1996) traces the originary—if not the first—use of these terms to a 1970 conference held by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (Apostel et al. 1972). There has been some drift away from the original OECD usage—for instance, ‘pluridisciplinarity’ has essentially dropped out of the literature and TD has taken on an interesting new meaning in the last decade or so, thanks to both theoretical and practical developments in Europe, especially. But what we have now in the scholarly literature on ID is something approaching agreement on the use of the following terms:
• MD refers to the (mere) juxtaposition of two ormore academic disciplines focused on a single problem.

• ID refers to the integration of two or more disciplines focused on a common (and, it is sometimes insisted, a complex) problem.
• TD refers to the integration of one or more academic disciplines with extra-academic perspectives on a common (and usually a real-world, as opposed to a merely academic) problem.

Now, perhaps I am wrong about the fact that there is general agreement on these terms within the literature. Or perhaps I am right about that point, but wrong in terms of the details in the definitions I have proposed. Or perhaps I am more right about this than wrong. If so, then perhaps the AAoA&S is guilty of reinventing the wheel.

But who cares about such dangerous ‘perhapses’?!

This entry was posted in Accountability, CSID Publications, Future of the University, institutionalizing interdisciplinarity, Interdisciplinarity, Multidisciplinarity, STEM Policy, Transdisciplinarity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Reinventing the Wheel of Interdisciplinarity

  1. Pingback: Reinventing the Wheel, Again | jbrittholbrook

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