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On Beyond Disciplinarity Forum

"Interdisciplinary conversations are, we believe, already well on the way to becoming the "center of the academy,"and of intellectual life in general ... The very nature of interdisciplinarity, as we understand it, requires that those who engage in it will always be working beyond the edges of what they know how to do well ... This revolution-in-progress is seeded by and provides an antidote for many of the ills of traditional, discipline-focused academic life. Like all revolutions, however, it stems from a wide variety of different dissatisfactions and unmet aspirations, and is, in its early stages, a little inchoate both in justification and in evolving practices. Further, because interdisciplinary activities differ sharply from the prior training and experiences of many of us, they can also be a little daunting" ... Theorizing Interdisciplinarity Welcome to an on-line forum for discussing disciplines and what is beyond them, academically and otherwise. Like all Serendip forums, this is a place for informal conversation, for leaving thoughts of your own that might be useful to others and finding ones that might be useful to yourself. Join in, and lets see what new understandings, communities, and even institutional structures might emerge from some "transgression" of disciplinary boundaries.

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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a starting point ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-04-27 16:18:19
Link to this Comment: 19165

DP Dash is at the Xavier Institute of Management in Bhubaneswar, India, and an editor of the Journal of Research Practice. The following, excerpted from an email exchange between DP and myself (Department of Biology and director of the Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr College) provided the impetus for initiating this forum.

Dash - 24 April 2006

Just read:

Dalke, A., Grobstein, P., & McCormack, E. (2006). Theorizing interdisciplinarity: The evolution of new academic and intellectual communities. Retrieved April 25, 2006, from

Much impressed with the clarity with which you address the key issues of "interdisciplinarity." The article gave me interesting leads to work on. In fact, with your permission, I would like to use it in my research training programmes.

By the way, for me your Figure 1 also represents the the essential research process. The left-hand side representing the everyday world and the right-hand side, the research world. As your figure depicts, not only do we explore the contiguities within these worlds separately, we also need to explore the linkages between the two world. The general (but admittedly vague) criteria in research requires that the linkages be "value-adding" in nature. Linking a new abstraction to an experience ought to add value to the experience (or the experiencing). Similarly, linking a new experience to an abstraction ought to add value to the abstraction (or the abstracting). Jumping metaphorically, I visualise it in the link between the oceans and the clouds--they add value to each other.

I would also like to express a difference. All said and done, I would still go with Marjorie Garber. Anything, when institutionalised, exerts conservative bias (preservation pressure). Some things become sacred--other things, profane. The real antidote against that would be an effective institutional renewal process. I believe, no one has yet figured out how to ensure that. The single most powerful notion I find is that of \"transgression,\" as Garber hints. I was thinking about it recently, and I invite you to read a very short piece: Transgressing Boundaries (Dash, 2006)
Grobstein - 27 April 2006 Thanks too for your extension of ways to see Figure 1 in the article. One could indeed quite legitimately treat it as representing an exchange between the "everyday" world and the "research world" (or, indeed, between two nations or two cultures). And I very much like your explicit addition that the exchanges need to be "value-adding" where that has appropriately different definitions for the different interacting elements. Recently I've been thinking a lot about how to make "value-added" less "vague" (cf some thoughts on "generativity" at but not realized until you said it so clearly that an essential component of that has to acknowledge the different needs/values of different components of the interacting system.

Differences betweem is are, of course, also fine (indeed "generative"). And I very much share your concern about the inherent conservative forces of "institutionalization". I'm not sure though that one can rely on an "institutional renewal process" (that necessarily being institutional and therefore .... ). My own inclinations are more along the lines of trying to create institutions that produce transgressive individuals (cf, and count on that process to perpetually drive institutional renewal.

I recently got the hard copy of "Research World", which contains the "Transgressing Boundaries" article you sent a link for, and like very much (among other things) your list of boundaries it is worth thinking about transgressing. Let me though add a thought based on some of the other thinking I've been doing, as well as your above concerns about "value-added". It is worth learning how to be more transgressive BECAUSE transgression has a value-added character; the point is not to transgress boundaries simply for the sake of doing so but rather to do it because there are things to be seen/learned/done that are not apparent without doing some boundary transgressing. The boundary transgression is itself a "generative" force, a way to get to new and "less wrong" places.
Dash - 27 April 2006 Well, the problem with transgression is that it can also take us to "more wrong" places too, unless other processes/criteria etc., are also involved, such as those in research. Hence, "transgression as a part of research practice" is what I am talking about. The exchange touches on a number of important issues in thinking "beyond disciplinarity" but of course far from all. If it triggers reactions and further thoughts from you, feel free to contribute them. But don't feel constrained by this exchange. Your own experiences and reflections on them are equally important and welcome contributions to what I hope will become an expanding, open-ended, and evolving conversation.

some history ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-04-30 21:46:07
Link to this Comment: 19198

Have just, by chance (?), started reading How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science by George A. Reisch (Cambridge, 2005). Its a very interesting, very well written exploration of the rise and fall of the "Unity of Science" movement prior to and following the second world war. And very relevant, I think, to our concerns here.

Otto Neurath, and people around am, felt that "scientific [research?] decisions and the actions based on them must emerge from public discussion ..., from argumentation that leads to agreement and coordinated action. Paths of action are to be collectively, cooperatively made and not (as a naive realism would have it) discovered as if there were one singular or optimal solution to any problem. In this regard, he saw the encyclopedia [of Unified Science] as potentially nothing less than an educational microcosm for the management and use of scientific knowledge in modern life".

What strikes me as important is not only an ancestry to our interdisciplinary inclinations (one of several) but also the reasons, as Reisch paints them, for its failure to thrive (as also the case for other ancestors). All not, of course, grounds for pessimism but perhaps something to learn from ....

Research World
Name: D. P. Dash
Date: 2006-06-27 12:57:49
Link to this Comment: 19607

We used this article as a "guide" for our research training seminar on June 23, 2006. Please see a report here:

Research Training Seminar # 4.1
On Entering the Research World

D. P. Dash, PhD

Forum Archived
Name: Webmaster
Date: 2007-04-26 12:30:33
Link to this Comment: 21709

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