Interdisciplinarity “Takes Hard Work”
Don Howard (Notre Dame) has a post up at his Science Matters blog called “On the Pseudoproblem of Interdisciplinarity.” It begins by recounting some of the familiar complaints about the obstacles to interdisciplinary work that he has heard over the years:
From the beginning of my life in the academy, back in the 1960s, I have heard again, and again, and again the complaint that the modern university and other institutions of research and intellection erect too many barriers to inter-, trans-, and cross-disciplinary interaction.
His reply? Quitcherbitchin.
It takes hard work…
Years ago I was fond of joking that the call for interdisciplinarity was really just a plea to be allowed to do badly in two fields what one perhaps couldn’t even do well in one. That might be a slightly uncharitable way to put the point, because we rightly celebrate interests that stretch beyond one’s home domain and we rightly encourage dialogue of all kinds. Moreover, we rightly strive to create more flexible and accommodating administrative structures… But the real problem of interdisciplinarity is, in most cases, that of a lack of effort or of talent, a failure to do what needs to be done to earn the respect of one’s colleagues in other fields, respect born out of study and demonstrated achievement. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but too many of the complainers are just lazy dilettantes. Hard working, smart folk see barriers as just bumps in the road on the way to the construction of richly interdisciplinary research careers, educational programs, professional associations, and whatever else is needed to get the job done. Confronted by a befuddled dean or a reluctant provost, they don’t stop, they accelerate.
The whole post is here.
(image: from “Battle of Detroit” by Diego Rivera)
I think the murals are called ‘Detroit Industry’. Rivera called the disputes over the production of the murals ‘The battle of Detroit,’ though.Report
“People who are unsuccessful are just lazy.” Hmm. Where have I heard that line before?Report
Dr. Howard suggests his experience with interdisciplinarity is not exceptional. He appeals to the history of science to support that claim. An alternative and overlooked body of evidence exists – studies on interdisciplinarity – which have been going on for at least the last 25 years. See work by, for example, Julie Thompson Klein, Dan Stokols, Kara Hall, Holly Falk-Krezinski, Gabrielle Bammer, all the folk at the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies. My reading of that literature suggests that Dr. Howard may be more exceptional than he gives himself credit for.Report
This reminded me of some remarks available online by ian Hacking titled “The Complacent Disciplinarian” in which he defends the idea that he is thoroughly an analytic philosopher despite having wide ranging interests. Their point of agreement I think is that good work often requires serious engagement with other fields. There is something peculiar about Hacking’s approach which combines continental sensibility in the construction of concepts with a historian’s approach which prevents it from being a model of how philosophy should be done but I do think it’s an example of a mode within analytic philosophy which broadens possibilities beyond clarifying and arguing for and against difference positions.Report