Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Interdisciplinary Studies and Scholarship: Issues, Challenges, and Implications for "Third World" Development and Social Change

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Interdisciplinary Studies and Scholarship: Issues, Challenges, and Implications for "Third World" Development and Social Change

Article excerpt

What is Interdisciplinary Studies?

In the modern world, learning has become so systematized that it is no more left to trial and error. In the words of Weber (Gerth and Mills, 1958), science has become a vocation. Consequently, there is significant discussion on what is the best way to conduct research and organize learning experience in such a way that will produce knowledge helpful in providing comprehensive understanding and solutions to complex problems that plague our contemporary societies.

One answer to this has been Interdisciplinary Studies or an interdisciplinary approach to research and scholarship. Interdisciplinary Studies is not the only term that is used for the effort to address this kind of concern. Other terms that have been used are Multidisciplinarity / Multidisciplinary Studies, and Transdisciplinarity /Transdisciplinary Studies. There is no general or fundamental agreement on these terms. Yet Allen Repko (2008:11-18) has provided excellent and concise summary definitions that are helpful in clarifying the terms even for a casual reader.

Before proceeding to address other themes, it is critical to define interdisciplinary studies and clarify how it is different from multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary studies. Furthermore, three different but related types of interdisciplinary studies will be presented. Interdisciplinary studies has been defined in different ways by several scholars. Some of the definitions are:

Interdisciplinary studies is a process of answering a question, solving a problem, or addressing a topic that is too broad or complex to be dealt with adequately by a single discipline or profession ... and draws on disciplinary perspectives and integrates their insights through construction of a more comprehensive perspective. (Klein and Newell, 1997: 393-394)

On the other hand, the definition put forward by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine is as follows:

Interdisciplinary research (IDR) is a mode of research by teams or individuals that integrates information, data, techniques, tools, perspectives, concepts, and/or theories from two or more disciplines or bodies of specialized knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research practice. (National Academy of Sciences et. al., 2005: 39)

In her definition of interdisciplinary work, Veronica Boix Mansilla pays particular attention to the concept of "interdisciplinary understanding," which she explains as follows:

The capacity to integrate knowledge and modes of thinking drawn from two or more disciplines to produce a cognitive advancement--for example, explaining a phenomenon, solving a problem, creating a product, or raising a new question--in ways that would have been unlikely through single disciplinary means. (Boix Mansilla, 2005: 16)

The working definition used in this article is a synthesis by Repko of the three preceding definitions. His synthesis of the three definitions is as follows:

Interdisciplinary studies is a process of answering a question, solving a problem, or addressing a topic that is too broad or complex to be dealt with adequately by a single discipline and draws on disciplinary perspectives and integrates their insights to produce a more comprehensive understanding or cognitive advancement. (Repko, 2008: 12)

We can conclude from all these definitions that interdisciplinary studies is a process in motion, and not something fixed and specific. It is not a research tradition that is willing to proclaim the end of history out of hubris. Although the goal of interdisciplinary studies is to go beyond the confines of disciplinary parameters, it presupposes them and builds on them. Thus, it does not intend to do away with disciplines but rather to use them to produce something much higher and more creative. …

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