19.231 failure of interdisciplinarity

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 27 Aug 2005 09:22:48 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 231.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Richard Cunningham <richard.cunningham_at_acadiau.ca> (34)
         Subject: Re: 19.229 failure of interdisciplinarity

   [2] From: tatjana.chorney_at_smu.ca (42)
         Subject: RE: 19.229 failure of interdisciplinarity

   [3] From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca> (39)
         Subject: Re: 19.229 failure of interdisciplinarity

         Date: Sat, 27 Aug 2005 09:16:30 +0100
         From: Richard Cunningham <richard.cunningham_at_acadiau.ca>
         Subject: Re: 19.229 failure of interdisciplinarity


I've been following the discussion on interdisciplinarity with
interest, not least because I am one of the designers of a
multi-disciplinary course that is part of an interdisciplinary
program some of my colleagues and I are attempting to--dare I say
it--institutionalize here at Acadia. I'm gratified to see that you
and others are engaging with many of the same questions and concerns
that engage us. And I hope it is more than simply a case of misery
loving company.

Two comments in the note that arrived today (19.229) prompt me to
offer my own contribution to the discussion.

The first was Hartmut Krech's invocation of the development of
natural language as a metaphor for the development of
interdisciplinarity. I immediately thought of the success of English
language at adopting and integrating into its own vocabulary elements
from other languages. If one were to equate, roughly, English to
interdisciplinarity, Latin, German, and other languages upon which
modern English is built to disciplinarity, then it would be hard to
pose an historical argument against adopting interdisciplinarity. I
trust we all realize that mounting a moral argument would be much
easier, and indeed ought never to be overlooked.

The second comment that prompts me to write is Patrick Durasau's
description of the university as being "conceived of as libraries and
librarians, research facilities and a gathering of inquisitive minds
[that] provides all the opportunity necessary to transcend the boundaries of
disciplines." This hasn't been my experience of any university at
which I've had the privilege and pleasure of studying and working,
and in our age of reduced circumstances, wherein all gains by any
module are viewed fearfully by others as potential losses to their
own status quo, the provision of opportunity to transcend
disciplinary boundaries seems as distant a horizon as it ever was.



         Date: Sat, 27 Aug 2005 09:17:30 +0100
         From: tatjana.chorney_at_smu.ca
         Subject: RE: 19.229 failure of interdisciplinarity

Dear All,

Responding to further comments, which I continue to read with great
interest: the variety of perspectives offered through these
responses--scientific/lingustic, horticulturalist, computing--illustrate
a form of un-self-conscious interdisciplinarity in that they reflect how
persons from varioius disciplines read and understood the citation we
were given; yes, we all respond in ways that reflect mental structures
associated with or acquired from previous knowledges. However, from the
point of view cited by Hartmut, I see the problem. There is always a
certain kind of tension between macro and micro levels, especially in an
area whose macro level is not firmly defined. But, this could be a space
of productivity rather than impasse.

The comments in themselves seem to supply the vocabulary or the
languages of metasystemic integration while participating in a new
methodology (if we could agree that metasystemic integration exists, and
that we participate in its formation and practice). My own comment, as a
further example, due to my own personal inclinations, my educational
background and the fact that I am employee of an English department (my
intellectual home/domains, the areas in which and from which I practice
my profession), is inflected by philosophical and pragmatic concerns,
broadly understood.

Again, it strikes me that being critically open to varieties of
perspectives on the same issue, all of which can productively reveal an
aspect of the issue, remains a positive course of action.
It is my belief also, that the university, as "a gathering of
inquisitive minds" should provide "all the opportunity necessary to
transcend the boundaries of disciplines" as Patrick notes. And I do
often try to remind others of this. Unfortunately, this is one area
where we often see a gap between theory and practice--actual
responsiveness to innovation or integration and actual willingness to
engage with various forms of Difference, are frequently minimal, or, in
some cases, non existent. I guess, what I am saying is that there is an
institutional resistance that both conditions and is conditioned by
indiviudal inclinations and human resistance to change in general
(especially when it calls itself "change"), to which, I think, the
initial citation may have reacted.


Dr. Tatjana Chorney
Department of English
Saint Mary's University
Halifax, Nova Scotia

         Date: Sat, 27 Aug 2005 09:18:05 +0100
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>
         Subject: Re: 19.229 failure of interdisciplinarity

Francois describes having a discipline as "to be able to recreate the
of practice elsewhere" -- I like this definition, because practice is something
that disciples do and share among each other in order to gain a sense of
commonality/coordination. It highlights social activity without making the
process of "discipline" sound like a pedestrian gangwar.

I also acknowledge the slipperyness of words like "subject" and
"discipline." The library of Congress classification system
classifies "subjects," but
attempts to do so by mirroring disciplines. The history of LC is quite
interesting -- literally, the LC classification system is structured based on
the way the Library of Congress developed over time. So, in a sense, a subject
is the product of disciples -- the way of sharing.

But, the more I wind the whole issue of discipline/interdiscipline in my head,
the more I think there is a "problem" that is simply evading the
discussion. Right now, my description sounds something like "we do
not know what knowledge
is anymore."

I think knowledge used to be the product of disciples/disciplines, but now I am
not so sure. Some of the factors that are causing change in our understanding
of what knowledge is would include --
* increased individuality,
* increased informality,
* oral tradition being [re]legitimized,
* increased recognition of cultural difference (+ globalization)
* "silent" or tacit knowledge transfer being recognized
* in the computer age a certain degree of silent knowledge is
becoming necessary
to access much non-tacit (explicit) knowledge
* collaborative / connective transfer is becoming more and more important --
(and this collaborative / connective transfer may not fit into francois's
definition of "discipline" since the "practice" of collaboration may be
desirable precisely because it is NOT recreatable.

Interdisciplinarity seems to be a way people adapt (with varying success) to
"not knowing what knowledge is." In fact, maybe that should be the goal of
the interdiscipline -- finding out what knowledge is, by testing what kinds of
atoms will connect into compounds -- and how.

Ryan. . .

Ryan Deschamps
MLIS/MPA Expected 2005
Received on Sat Aug 27 2005 - 04:34:24 EDT

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