Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Interdisciplinarity in Doctoral Social Work Education: Does It Make a Difference?

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Interdisciplinarity in Doctoral Social Work Education: Does It Make a Difference?

Article excerpt

IN 1959, BRITISH SCIENTIST and novelist C.P. Snow argued that society's educational systems and intellectual life were characterized by what seemed an incommensurable split between its two dominant forms of intellectual inquiry--the arts and humanities on one hand and the sciences on the other (Snow, 1993). By persuasively arguing that relations between these "two cultures" were characterized by mutual suspicion and incomprehension, Snow raised important questions not only about the structure and adequacy of curricula in schools and universities but also about the prospects of applying advances in knowledge to the requirements of solving social and economic problems in the world.

Many (e.g., Collini, 1993) have pointed out that Snow was not the first to comment critically on the problems of communication between different forms of intellectual inquiry. Such problems have a history going back to at least the beginning of the 1800s when William Wordsworth's poetic observation that in science "We murder to dissect" captured an emerging anxiety about the meaning and implications of affording the scientific method a dominant position in the study of nature and human affairs. By the same token, Snow's lecture did give the problem of communication across different knowledge domains a distinctive prominence, invoking a world-wide debate that continues to this day. However, currently the debate tends to be specific to science (Kimble, 1984) and is subsumed under questions about the implications of high levels of specialization in knowledge production (Sil, 2000).

Many endorse specialization in science, arguing that it accounts for much of the progress in Western science and technology over the past 2 centuries (Hansson, 1999; Payne, 1999). Others point to its costs, maintaining that the high levels of disciplinization and structural differentiation characteristic of modem knowledge-production processes preclude awareness of how research advances and findings might contribute to integrated efforts outside disciplinary boundaries (Brewer, 1999; Fuller, 1993; Wallerstein, 2001). This is seen as particularly relevant in knowledge application, where problems of interest to the general public are not contained within specific disciplinary boundaries or solvable with any particular discipline's resources (Karlqvist, 1999; Nissani, 1997; Romm, 1998; Schneiderman, Speers, Silva, Tomes, & Gentry, 2001). A different approach is required, one that emphasizes purposive coordination between disciplinary experts, as well as the interpenetration, if not renegotiation, of disciplinary boundaries. In short, what is needed in knowledge policy is a commitment to interdisciplinarity.

This has proven a persuasive argument, with interdisciplinarity increasingly emphasized as a requisite feature of privately and publicly supported research, and of university-based undergraduate and graduate training programs (Klein, 1996). Regardless, questions remain about its efficacy, including questions about whether or not it results in better trained graduates and more socially useful knowledge (Lattuca, Voight, & Fath, 2004).

The purpose of this research is to begin to address this question of efficacy. The specific focus is on doctoral education in social work in the United States. Focusing on social work is particularly appropriate because of its historical emphasis on training doctoral graduates to develop knowledge for application on an interdisciplinary basis. Empirically, this research uses longitudinal data covering a 13-year period to examine how variation in interdisciplinarity emphasis in doctoral social work training programs affects the scholarly orientation and productivity of graduates.

Interdisciplinarity and Social Work

Interdisciplinarity can be defined as involving increased interactions among disciplines. Hence, at a general level, it is similar In meaning to ideas of multidisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. …

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