Coming from a small Arts and Sciences College in Canada the
problem of discipline was never a big deal to me. I didn’t feel restrained by
the so-called methodology of the discipline that I was part of, even though
Sociology can be a bit of a bummer – it is pretty much mandatory that a method
section precede your dissertation or thesis (and, no, 'I will read books and write on them' does not constitute a 'method'). I’m not sure how this plays out
in philosophy or the study of languages, but I presume there is an equivalent
to the obsession with method that characterizes the social sciences. That’s
fine by me – I think it is important to get your metaphysics in order before
moving on to analyzing a specific problem or set of issues.
But my point in this post is to recall how liberating
‘interdisciplinarity’ was to me in my second or third year of studies. Interdisciplinarity
had a liberatory ring to it – I was not restrained by discipline any longer! However, as I look back now, I realize that I wasn’t ‘restrained’ in the first
place. Yes, the statistics courses were terribly boring (and there were many of them). They were basically irrelevant
for what I wanted to do. Methodology didn’t seem very methodical but rather based on some quite elementary assumptions (the world presents normal curves, etc). But the
college that I attended was open to students studying in a variety of areas,
and it was even required as part of our mandatory course requirements. So, why
did interdisciplinarity seem so radical and freeing?
Perhaps I could sense that the institutions were resistant
to it and that's what made it feel sub-versive. For instance, in my current university students can enroll in the
interdisciplinary program to work between, say, two or three departments. But what
they really get is a run-around. The departments with which they are affiliated
usually put the interdisciplinary students at the bottom of the list when it
comes to funding, supervision, teaching assignments, RAs, etc. In a word, it is risky to be a
part of an interdisciplinary research program because you can never be sure what lies
around the corner. Precarity becomes the order of the day, which usually happens after the PhD, MA, or BA, not before it.
But, secondly, there has been a wider shift away from interdisciplinarity both at
the institutional and individual levels. There is a growing concern about students
having a lack of expertise in any one area and a rather summary understanding
of a variety of disciplines. The main concern in this regard is that InterD. students have
no expertise in particular and no one is really qualified to supervise them. This
sort of complaint tends to come from faculty members and committee members who
resist interdisciplinarity as being anything even resembling a ‘strength’. It
is, on the contrary, a lack (of ‘rigour’,
‘discipline’, ‘strength’, and so on).
So, where does this leave us? Does interdisciplinarity still have a liberatory aspect to it? I suppose the answer would be ‘yes’, as in, interdisciplinarity leaves you free from big 'd' Discipline and thus free to starve…
Cross-posted at The Yolk blog.